How to Use the Freedom of Information Act
The Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law, passed by Congress and signed by the President in 1966, gives members of the public the right to obtain certain government records. The law was written to contribute to an informed citizenry that they could better participate in democratic decision making. State have their own FOIA laws and regulations which pertain to state and often local government agencies.
A variety of information can be obtained through FOIA laws, including how agencies operate, how they are structured, how they make decisions and how they spend money. Here we are concerned that parents and others are able to easily obtain documents about issues pertaining to public education and the implementation of assessment/testing programs.
Depending on the state FOIA laws, some or all of the following may be public documents subject to FOIA requests, others may be "exempt" from disclosure. These may include: the state's request for proposal for test creation and scoring and criteria for choosing the contracted company; test validity and reliability studies; test answer scoring procedures; cut-score or level setting procedures (such as how a failing score is determined); expenditures for certain tests or assessments overall; the type and cost of training provided for teachers to learn alternative assessment practices; the cost of rewards to high scoring schools; the cost of retaining students in grade an extra year; a breakdown in test scores by race, class, gender and socioeconomic class. In some states, the contract with the test manufacturer may also be a public document.
In order to use the FOIA, a letter detailing the information sought must be sent to the appropriate record keeping department. If you are not sure where to begin, consult your Secretary of State or state legislator's office for guidance. It is important that the letter be addressed to the right agency and be as clear and specific as possible in describing the information wanted.
For a complete guide to the Federal FOIA, follow a link to the American Civil Liberties Union guide listed below.
The following sample letter written by a parent in Ohio provides a good example of the format and language that should be used:
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