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Gov. Wilson Freezes Funds for Calif. Testing System

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The innovative California assessment system that has been under siege from parents and conservative groups has encountered more trouble--this time from Gov. Pete Wilson.

Mr. Wilson late last month put a hold on $26.4 million that had been earmarked for the continued development and implementation of the California Learning Assessment System, known as CLAS.

The action followed the Governor's request to the state auditor for a financial and performance examination of the assessment.

The open-ended essay test provides students with literary passages and other prompts in an effort to gauge critical-thinking and other higher-level skills.

Critics, however, charge that the test asks questions that pry into a student's private life and beliefs, and they question the test's validity. (See Education Week, May 4, 1994.)

To restore public confidence in the examination system, state education officials retreated from an earlier stance and announced that they would release portions of the test to the public if sufficient new materials could be ready for next year's testing program.

The state board of education and Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction William D. Dawson said 8th- and 10th-grade English and language-arts questions would be released after this round of testing is completed later this month.

Public Scrutiny

By circulating the questions, state officials hope to quell much of the criticism surrounding the test and to prove that opponents have circulated misleading and inaccurate information.

Education officials have also taken steps to open up the exam-review process to greater public scrutiny. For example, assessment advisory panels will be expanded to include more parents, school board members, members of the business community, and the general public.

Moreover, the state superintendent will appoint a panel of lawyers, judges, or legal scholars to review materials at various points in the test's development to insure that it does not violate student-privacy protections or other laws.

Legislation is also pending that would address some of the issues critics have raised.

"We're working with [State Sen.] Gary Hart and others to produce legislation that would allay some of the Governor's concerns,'' said Jan Agee, a spokeswoman for the education department.

For all the objections, however, only six out of the more than 1,000 districts in the state have refused to administer the test.

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