Over the last decade the Idaho State Board of Education has proven itself clueless concerning effective educational reform. Every punitive reform measure floated by advocates of “No Child Left Behind” logic (improve schools by cutting resources while demanding more accountability) has been blindly adopted in Idaho no matter what the research says about its effectiveness in general or its appropriateness to the unique needs of Idaho schools.
Because neither the Legislature nor the State Board have ever had anything approaching an orignial idea, they have implemented these so-called reform measures four or five years after they have been adopted elsewhere in the country. This is actually a good thing for Idaho school children because, in some instances, it only takes four of five years for a really bad idea to fail and the State Board can “pull the plug” before the reform is implemented here.
Hopefully, that will be the case with high school exit exams. The idea that high school students, who in all other respects qualify for graduation, cannot receive a diploma unless they pass a single standardized ‘high-stakes” test is a bad idea. Now it appears that a Judge in California will rule that it is also illegal.
Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman gave a glimpse at his expected ruling this afternoon at a hearing in Oakland on three consolidated class-action lawsuits challenging the high-stakes exit exams. By recent state figures, the decision could affect some 47,000 seniors who have not yet passed the graduation tests measuring junior high math skills and 10th-grade level English. Freedman said he was apt to agree with the plaintiffs’ argument that the test infringes on students’ rights by virtue that not all California students have access to the same quality of education.
This ruling is historic because it makes clear that the state cannot deny a diploma to students if the schools those students attend are denied the resources necessary to effectively educate them.
“…you cannot deprive a student of a diploma unless you fairly and properly prepare that student,” said Arturo Gonzalez, of Morrison and Foerster, a San Francisco law firm representing one of the class-action suits contesting the exams.
On behalf of a group of students from Richmond High School, Gonzalez filed a complaint arguing that the state failed to provide students — particularly English learners and those from low-income areas — with the necessary education to pass the test. Among the complaints is contradictory curriculum taught in schools that does not match what is being tested on the exams, and a lack of qualified teachers. “You can’t just throw a kid into a swimming pool and say ‘swim,'” Gonzalez said.
I hope the Idaho Legislature and the State Board of Education are paying attention. There are a lot of Idaho kids paddling as fast as they can, but not able to stay afloat because their schools haven’t the funding necessary to help them. The current exceptions for IEP or LEP students and the phase-in of ISAT scores for graduation ends for the graduates of 2008. After 2008 it will still be possible for students to appeal to local school boards, but the language of those exceptions is fuzzy. As long as the current funding inequities exist, Idaho can anticipate class action suits similar to the current case in California.