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Published in Print: October 11, 2000, as Parents Seek Civil Rights Probe Of High-Stakes Tests in La.

Parents Seek Civil Rights Probe Of High-Stakes Tests in La.

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A Louisiana parents' group has filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education over the state's high-stakes testing system, charging that it is having a disproportionate impact on poor and minority children.

Louisiana this fall began holding back students in the 4th and 8th grades who fail the state's new standardized tests.

As many as 18,000 students in the two grades were retained because they failed the exams.

Last week, state officials could not provide a more specific total or a breakdown of how many poor and minority students failed or were held back.

But the parents' complaint asks the Education Department's office for civil rights to investigate the "misuse and abuse of standardized testing" in Louisiana and charges that "nearly half the children in some of the school districts with the highest percentage of poor and minority children failed" when they were allowed to take the test a second time after failing it once.

"Not one of the 50 other states has implemented such a scheme for grade school children," the complaint from Parents for Educational Justice says. "There is good reason [for this], because it has proven to be an educational disaster for children in minority and poor schools."

C.C. Campbell-Rock, a co-founder of the parents' group, said she hopes federal officials will force the state to place a moratorium on using the test to hold students back until it can prove that the test is reliable and valid, and that the curriculum is aligned with the test's requirements.

Last week, state officials defended their testing program.

"It is disappointing that this group prefers to push children into classes they are not ready for instead of providing them with intensive help so they will be ready for the next grade," Cecil J. Picard, the state superintendent of education, said in a written statement.

This is not the first time the Education Department has investigated alleged civil rights violations stemming from statewide tests, said Susan Bowers, the acting assistant deputy secretary for the department's office for civil rights.

The OCR has received four such complaints prior to the one from the Louisiana parents.

Ms. Bowers said those cases—involving North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, and Nevada—were resolved voluntarily.

The OCR and the states reached agreements under which the states committed to taking steps, such as providing summer school and accelerated programs, to help students who struggle with the exams.

"What we have never done is require the state to stop using the tests," Ms. Bowers said.

Court Challenges

The Education Department received the Louisiana complaint on Oct. 4. It typically takes about a month to decide whether a complaint merits investigation, Ms. Bowers said.

Parents for Educational Justice alleges that the state's high-stakes testing system "is an inexpensive attempt to punish the victims of educational neglect and divert the public's attention from the real steps that need to be taken to improve educational opportunity for the children of Louisiana."

In April, a federal court rejected the group's effort to prevent the state from using the high- stakes test to determine students' academic fate. And, last month, a federal court rejected a similar complaint filed by another parents' group.

Michael Rubin, a lawyer representing the state board of elementary and secondary education, said the courts acted correctly in rejecting the groups' claims. "We are convinced that the test is an appropriate test," he added.

Vol. 20, Issue 6, Page 14

Web Resources
  • "Meritocracy's Crooked Yardstick" is the first chapter of Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do To Change It, by Peter Sacks, February 2000, from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
  • The Center for Education Reform responds to the anti-testing furor by stating that for the first time in years, standards and tests, coupled with more control and flexibility at the school level, are driving improvements. Read more in "The Testing Conspiracy Exposed," June 2000.
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