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La. Sets Testing Rule for Private Schools

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Over the strong objections of Catholic educators, Louisiana's state school board voted last week to require most private-school students to pass a state graduation test.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 7 to 3 to require students who attend private schools that accept state aid to pass the test to obtain a state diploma.

Public-school students began taking the test for the first time last month. It covers language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and written composition.

"Catholic educators feel this is an intrusion into our system," said Sister Mary Michaeline, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. "The test was never intended for non-public schools."

Louisiana's private schools receive some $16 million a year in state aid, including $3 million for books.

The exit exam is a criterion-referenced test based on state curriculum guides and textbooks.

"Even though we use state textbooks, we have our own values instilled in our curriculum," said Sis4ter Michaeline. "We are concerned testing would begin to control our curriculum."

Wilmer S. Cody, the state superintendent of education, recommended that private-school students be required to pass some form of exit test.

"The exam represents the expansion of the state's role in determining quality and standards," he said.

Thomas A. Rayer, legal counsel for the Louisiana Catholic Conference, said the state constitution gives the state board limited authority to review private schools' curricula, and does not allow it to evaluate such schools' students and teachers.

He said the state exam was "not a valid test of what a student in a nonpublic school has learned."

Private educators are evaluating what their next step will be. They may ask the courts or the legislature to overturn the testing requirement, Mr. Rayer said.

Sophomores in the 1990-91 school year would be the first group affected by the requirement, Mr. Cody said.--mw

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