L.A. Group Pushes for Testing Change

K-12 Testing

On February 25, 250 students, parents, and teachers from the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) marched around the Los Angeles Unified School District building, chanting “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Racist Tests Have Got to Go” and “Paz, No Guerra, Paz, No Guerra.”


Inside, CEJ student leader Veronica Garcia and parent leader Dale Martin spoke to the School Board about the institutional racism of administering high-stakes tests to unequal schools. Through implementation of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), this practice adds to dropout rates among students of color and leaves many with few options.


“To withhold their diploma at this point is really blaming the victims of a system that is very inadequate,” said Professor Jeannie Oakes of University of California, Los Angeles.


On April 8, the LA School Board voted unanimously to oppose the graduation test. School boards in San Francisco and other districts also have called for ending the requirement. The State Board of Education is expected to re-examine the role of the graduation test this summer. CAHSEE is scheduled to take effect for students in the class of 2004.


Throughout February and March, board members discussed two reports from the district’s Task Force on Alternative Assessments, whose formation was won by CEJ in May 2002 (see Examiner, Summer 2002). One report was from the district’s Program Evaluation and Research Branch (PERB), while the other was independently written by 12 of the 25 members of the Task Force, led by CEJ.


The independent report calls for the LAUSD Board to oppose the CAHSEE; build a coalition of local districts to influence the state government; create a comprehensive alternative assessment system that is not high-stakes; and develop an Opportunity to Learn Index that would measure students’ access to critical learning tools such as books, desks, uncrowded classes, adequate facilities, language programs, counselors, and classes needed for graduation.


The PERB report supported a modest expansion of the use of performance assessments such as the Learning Record for classroom use, but also promoted an expansion of standardized testing. These mostly multiple-choice exams, some commercial and some made by the district, would be used regularly in classrooms during the year. This is not what CEJ and its allies meant by a comprehensive alternative assessment system.


The board is still considering the other recommendations from the independent report and PERB.