Legal battle still is not finished

Despite a state appeals court decision earlier this month that upheld California's high school exit exam, the lawyers who filed lawsuits against the high-stakes test said on Tuesday that they haven't given up their legal fight.

“The bottom line is we are not going away and neither is the lawsuit,” said attorney Arturo Gonzalez, of the San Francisco-based law firm Morrison & Foerster.

Gonzalez filed the lawsuit on behalf of senior students who had not passed the exit exam, arguing that the test discriminated against students who are minorities, low-income and/or English-language learners, since they frequently attend schools with less resources.

Gonzalez said he did not file a petition asking the California Supreme Court to review the appellate court decision, but instead agreed to a sit-down meeting with state Department of Education officials Aug. 18 to see if an agreement could be hammered out to offer additional remediation to those seniors denied a diploma in June. He is currently waiting on the state's response to his request, he said. If an agreement is not made, he'll “go back to the judge and seek a new injunction,” he said.

A second lawsuit that argues not enough time was spent by the state researching alternatives to the existing test is scheduled to go before the same appeals court Sept. 12. Filed by another San Francisco-based law firm, Public Advocates, the lawsuit also seeks to delay the consequences of the exit exam – meaning those not passing in the class of 2006 would retroactively get exams if the judge rules that the state did not fully pursue its legal obligation to review other means of assessing students' knowledge and skills.

“Nearly every state has alternatives,” Public Advocates attorney John Affeldt said. “They shouldn't rely so heavily on a single test score.”

In a teleconference Tuesday morning, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell noted that there is also a bill working its way through the state Legislature that proposes extending a one-year exemption for special education students that was granted to the class of 2006.

O'Connell said that although the state has not taken an official position on the new legislation, he believed an ongoing exemption – which would give diplomas to special education students who have passed their classes but not the exit exam – “wouldn't prepare them for fulfilling, productive, independent lives.”

beslinger@examiner.com

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