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Panel Puts Brakes on Bill To Rebuild Calif. Testing System

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A California Assembly committee last week tabled legislation to reconstruct the state's testing system, a move supporters say effectively kills the bill's chances of passage before the legislature adjourns at week's end.

The bill, introduced by Democrat Leroy F. Greene, the Senate education committee chairman, was held up in the Republican-majority appropriations committee of the Assembly on a 10-9 party-line vote.

The bill already had cleared the Senate.

The state's debate over a testing program has been watched closely nationwide, as California has pioneered many of the elements of standards-based schools reform.

A year ago, Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a measure to strengthen the testing system that was begun in 1993 and called the California Learning Assessment System. As a result of that veto, state funding was discontinued, and the program was stopped. (See Education Week, Sept. 7, 1994.)

Mr. Greene said Gov. Wilson supported his bill, joining dozens of other state groups that had signed on to the proposed replacement for CLAS. (See Education Week, April 26, 1995.)

"I have never had a longer list of supporters in my 30 years here," Mr. Greene said.

No Sex, No Religion

The bill also was constructed to answer criticism of CLAS that a state testing system would invade student privacy. It specifically excluded from any state tests questions about sexual activity, morality, or religion.

The legislation also would have instructed school officials to excuse students from the test at their parents' request.

Despite such changes, Mr. Greene said, the bill still tripped up on the idea that state testing would be an invasive instrument of big government. No testing system will pass the legislature "unless there is a serious attitudinal change," he said.

The state education department, meanwhile, may seek private-sector funds to set up at least a partial testing system, said Susan Lange, a spokeswoman for state Superintendent Delaine Eastin.

"The business community is as outraged as we are that there is no assessment system in the state," Ms. Lange said.

Eastin Proposal

Last week, Ms. Eastin released a package of reforms aimed at freeing from state control districts that agree to meet specified student-performance targets.

"I am prepared to waive virtually any provision of the state's education code for a few brave districts willing to begin implementing this reform agenda immediately," Ms. Eastin said in a written statement.

Nine districts are in negotiations with the state to become "challenge" districts, including the 126,000-student San Diego city school district, the 14th-largest public school district in the nation.

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