LEAP lawsuit delayed until scores tallied

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2000

AP and staff reports

A parents’ group challenging Louisiana’s new promotion test for fourth- and eighth-graders will have to wait until they find out whether their children failed before a judge will hear their objections.

U.S. District Judge Edith Brown Clement ruled Wednesday that Parents for Educational Justice do not have legal standing to pursue a suit until after the test results are released in late May. The ruling left the door open for the group to return to court later.

Email newsletter signup

Debra Probst, who helped organize a chapter of PFEJ in Concordia Parish along with fellow parent Lisa Hutchins, expressed disappointment but said the judge’s action won’t stop the group from pursuing its lawsuit in the future.

&uot;We still feel like what we’re doing is right. What’s unfair yesterday and today will be unfair tomorrow,&uot; Probst said. &uot;And once parents start getting calls that their children failed the test, I think more parents will join (our group).&uot;

The parents’ group is not trying to stop the state from administering the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test, but wants to block school officials from using results to determine which students will be held back a grade.

Clement agreed with state attorneys who contended the group could not seek federal court protection from potential damage to their rights.

”You do not have plaintiffs who have been damaged and who can claim they have been damaged,” the judge said.

The parents’ group contends the test violates the due-process rights and property rights of students because the exam covers material not taught and does not provide a constitutionally adequate appeals process for those who fail.

But Clement said she was skeptical about the property rights claim, although she would be willing to explore additional arguments later.

The LEAP test measures the basic knowledge of core courses. It was given the week of March 13 in public schools. Students who fail it can take makeup courses and try the test again in the summer. This year — for the first time ever — those who fail then will be denied promotion.

Backers say the test is a key to ending social promotions that leave students impossibly far behind their peers, leading to dropouts.

Mike Rubin, an attorney representing the state education department, argued that while it is recognized that students have a right to an education, other federal court decisions have struck down the idea that students have a right to be promoted in school.

”If you graduate a year later, you haven’t lost anything because you’ve gotten the education,” Rubin said.

But Bill Quigley, an attorney representing the parents’ group, said state law requires objective standards for promotion, thus granting the students a property right that is subject to court review for fairness.

Rubin countered that the law requires promotions to be based on minimum state standards, part of which is now the LEAP test.

The judge asked Quigley if there was an education crisis in the state. Quigley said the parents’ group firmly believed so and favored more funding for schools, better-qualified teachers and smaller class sizes to improve education — responsibilities the plaintiffs contend the state has not met.

”It is unfair to hold children accountable for material they have not been taught,” Quigley said.

Addressing the claim that students are being tested on material at least some schools have not taught, Rubin said the LEAP test is a skills-based exam that examines a student’s breadth of knowledge and is not a test of the mastery of a particular curriculum.

The state also says any challenge by the parents’ group should be limited to the parishes in which their children live. State attorneys contend the group cannot speak for the standards of other local school districts. Clement’s ruling made that point moot for now.

Quigley complained that since most students will not know how they did until late May, there would not be enough time for them to test the appellate system if they decided not to go to summer school and retake the exam.

”There are a lot worse things than going to summer school,” Clement replied.

After the hearing, Quigley said the judge’s ruling was not unexpected, but the parents’ group would continue with the challenge.

”By saying we have to wait a month, it is not going to stop the parents from fighting an unjust system,” Quigley said.

State Education Superintendent Cecil Picard said the LEAP test is a vital first step in holding schools accountable for their performance in teaching students.

”We have to start somewhere and this is the best place to start,” Picard said.