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Judge Lifts Curb on Tests for Special-Ed. Services

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A federal judge in California has issued a ruling easing some court-imposed restrictions in that state on the use of standardized intelligence tests to qualify black schoolchildren for special-education services.

The preliminary injunction issued this month by U.S. District Judge Robert Peckham comes in a lawsuit brought by the families of nine black schoolchildren who have learning problems. It will allow the families of three of those children to arrange to have their children tested in order to help school officials determine if they qualify for special help or if their special-education placements are appropriate for them.

The remaining six plaintiffs have either moved or left school, according to their lawyers.

California school officials have been prohibited from using iq tests to identify black children as mentally retarded since a 1979 federal court ruling in Larry P. v. Riles. In that well-known case, also decided by Judge Peckham, the court found the standardized intelligence tests were biased, resulting in the placement of disproportionate numbers of black children in classes for educable mentally retarded children.

In 1986, Judge Peckham expanded his ruling to apply to all black students who are referred for special education except those being considered for gifted and talented programs.

The current case, Demond Wilson v. Bill Honig, takes issue only with the expanded order.

Earlier Ruling Went Too Far

In his new ruling, Judge Peckham said his 1986 order went "beyond the findings of the trial court." He said the plaintiffs have "demonstrated a probability of success" in the case and could well be harmed by the state's ban on such tests.

The Landmark Legal Foundation, the public-interest law firm representing the parents in the case, has hailed the ruling as a "victory" that could lead to a complete lifting of the testing ban.

"The racially discriminatory and unconstitutional [test] ban is on its way out," said the organization's president, Jerald L. Hill. "These schoolchildren will now have access to the same education-assessment tools available to white, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native American students."

California school officials said last week they had not yet determined how to respond to the new ruling.

"We're against using iq tests for any kid," said Susie Lang, a spokesman for the state education department. "This business of blacks can't take them but whites and Hispanic kids can has really muddied the waters."

Under current rules, individual school districts decide whether to give the test to students who are not black.

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