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Published in Print: November 20, 2002, as Boston Groups Modify Test-Prep Effort After Complaint

Boston Groups Modify Test-Prep Effort After Complaint

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To avoid legal conflicts, volunteers in Boston are taking a new approach to helping students pass state tests.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged an effort to have members of community and religious groups call parents and visit the homes of students who have not passed Massachusetts' high-stakes graduation exam. ("Boston Rallies to Help Students Pass Tests," Nov. 6, 2002.)

Volunteers from more than a dozen groups around Boston have pledged to help students pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams by organizing community meetings, as well as making phone calls and home visits to offer help. Students in the class of 2003 are the first to be required to pass the MCAS in order to graduate.

But Sarah Wunsch, a staff lawyer with the ACLU of Massachusetts, said that releasing the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students to volunteers who do not work with those students in schools violates the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Calling All Seniors

She wrote a Nov. 4 letter to the U.S. Department of Education asking the Family Policy Compliance Office to look into the alleged violation.

Volunteers had originally planned to call only the homes of the 1,600 students who have not yet passed the MCAS. But to avoid singling out students, they will now call the homes of all 3,700 seniors and ask parents whether their children have passed the exam.

Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the 63,000-student Boston public schools, said the change in approach was a response to the ACLU's concern. "It shifted the focus of the phone calls to a more general call," he said.

Ms. Wunsch said she was satisfied with the new arrangement.

Vol. 22, Issue 12, Page 5

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