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Newport-Mesa Schools May Boycott CLAS Test : Education: Most board members find some of the reading and writing segments to be objectionable.


COSTA MESA — In a move that would defy state law and intensify a growing chorus of complaints about California's new standardized tests, the Newport-Mesa Unified school board may vote this morning to not test the district's eighth- and 10th-graders.

During an emergency closed session, Newport-Mesa trustees will consider violating the state mandate to administer the California Learning Assessment System. The board is concerned that the CLAS test itself breaks a separate state law requiring parental permission to question children about moral issues.

After reviewing the CLAS tests Wednesday and Thursday, most board members said they believe the eighth- and 10th-grade reading and writing segments are laced with objectionable material and probably will vote against giving the tests, which are scheduled to start Monday.

"The test is ridiculous . . . I thought the stories were very inappropriate for the students," Trustee James de Boom said. "I don't particularly see them as anti-religious or anti-family, I just see them as anti-common decency.

"It's not going to hurt her to take the test," de Boom said of his daughter, a 10th-grader at Newport Harbor High, "but it's not the kind of values I'd like to have promoted."

The trustees said they are upset with several questions on the tests that probe students' personal values, as well as with stories that are weighted with race and sex.

If they vote to withdraw from the upper-grade tests, Newport-Mesa will become the first district in Orange County, and the largest of five statewide to reject the tests. All could face legal action from the state.

In interviews Thursday, Newport-Mesa Board Members Edward H. Decker, Sherry Loofbourrow, Martha Fluor, Forrest K. Werner and Roderick H. MacMillian, along with de Boom, said they found some of the eighth- and 10th-grade test material disturbing, though only de Boom said he definitely will vote against giving CLAS.

Judith A. Franco, the seventh trustee, could not be reached for comment.

The six others all said they want to either suspend administration of the exams, remove the most controversial portions or cancel them altogether.

Because Werner and Loofbourrow cannot attend this morning's meeting, the board is likely to vote to delay the exams until after its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night, when all trustees are expected to be present.

"I am angry and frustrated at being broadsided (by the state Department of Education)," said Loofbourrow, who also serves as president of the California School Boards Assn. "We had been so reassured that the questions in the test didn't go near the edge that I expected to read those tests and be completely comfortable . . . what I found was that there were (sections) that made me very uncomfortable."

Given for the first time last year, CLAS evaluates students' thought processes as well as their ability to derive correct answers, and measures achievement against tough statewide standards. At a cost of $26 million, more than 1 million fourth-, fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders are scheduled to take the reading, writing, math, science and social studies exams in some 7,500 schools statewide this spring.

After protests by the school boards association, state education officials decided last week that school board members would be allowed to read the exams, which until then had been kept secret. Newport-Mesa trustees signed promises of confidentiality before reading the exams.

Echoing her colleagues sentiment, Loofbourrow said Thursday that she believes the problems with the tests could easily be remedied and do not undermine CLAS overall.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Susie Lange said plans are already in place to broaden the review of materials in the future and that test developers are open to feedback. Refusing to administer the test is going too far, Lange said, suggesting that concerned districts acquire parental permission rather than cancel the exams altogether.

"I think it's a little presumptuous for boards to make that decision. They're a legal body. They take an oath of office. They're supposed to uphold the law and the law says the test shall be given," she said, promising to fight the district in court.

"How do they account for the parents that want (the exams given). Even if they only have one parent in the district that wants their kid to have it, that parent has a right to have their kid take the exam. The law is the law."

Newport-Mesa Supt. Cloyde McKinley (Mac) Bernd said the district chose this course because it would be impractical to now seek permission from all parents since testing is set for Monday.

The decision will be difficult, Bernd said, because board members believe they would be breaking state law either way.

At issue in the privacy question is Education Code Section 60650, which says that parents must give their permission in writing before children take any test concerning their "beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality and religion." In opposition is Section 60603: "The State Department of Education shall annually require that each district administer a statewide test to all pupils in grades 4, 5, 8 and 10."

The Antelope Valley Union High School District was the first in the state to vote against giving the exam, and was scheduled to reconsider that decision last night. Other districts that are not giving the exam are Monterey Peninsula Unified, Soledad-Agua Dulce Union elementary, and an 18-student district in Tehama County.

"I am very disappointed in the CLAS test," Newport-Mesa Board President Decker said. "I want to meet with my colleagues. It's important for all of us to hear each other's comments regarding what we read."

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