Lusher asks Attorney General if it must release the name of its admissions test

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Lusher Charter School has asked Louisiana’s attorney general if it must release information about its admissions test — including what it’s called.

The admissions process for the highly-rated charter school was thrust into the spotlight this month after Jacob Landry disclosed in a column for The Lens that Lusher’s CEO refused to tell him the name of its kindergarten admissions test.

Lusher is one of a handful of selective-admissions schools in New Orleans, all of which answer to the Orleans Parish School Board. The vast majority of schools in the city are overseen by the state Recovery School District and are open to anyone.

According to Landry, Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger told him he would have to sue to find out what test Lusher uses.

“Even if we don’t provide you with test questions and answer keys, if prospective parents know the name of the test, they might be able to access the test that is used year after year,” Riedlinger told Landry in a followup email.

Riedlinger said her lawyer advised her to seek an attorney general’s opinion on the matter. Last week, state Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans) forwarded her request to Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

In her letter Riedlinger said Landry asked for “information concerning the entrance exam.” She cited an exception to the state Public Records Law that shields “testing instruments” administered by the state, as well as answers or student scores for those tests.

“If the admissions exam does not fall under the above referenced exemptions, then virtually all tests given in Louisiana primary and secondary schools would be subject to the Public Records Act,” Riedlinger wrote. “For example, a parent could use the Public Records Act to request a copy of his or her child’s biology exam before it is administered.”

Landry said he just wants to know the name of Lusher’s test.

If he knew it, he said, he could check to see if it’s an IQ test. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education forbids schools from using IQ tests to make admissions decisions.

He also could check with the company that designed it to see if it’s supposed to be used for admissions.

Those answers would tell him whether the Orleans Parish School Board is properly overseeing Lusher and other charters.

“It’s not about Lusher,” he said. “It’s about charter school oversight and whether it’s being done properly.”

Landry, who has worked at the Louisiana Department of Education and the Jefferson Parish Public School System, said he applied to Lusher’s kindergarten for his son. He waited until admissions decisions had been made — his son didn’t get in — before asking about the test.

What’s in a name?

Landry said he is particularly concerned that Lusher’s test is not named in the school’s contract with the district.

Riedlinger said the the school’s admissions process has been approved by the Orleans Parish School Board. However, that approval apparently doesn’t include the test itself.

“Because we respect their autonomy, we do not know the name of the test,” OPSB spokesman Matt Broussard said. He said that’s true of all admissions tests used by selective charter schools in the district.

Lake Forest Charter School also uses an admissions test. CEO Mardele Early would not say what it is.

“Releasing the test name compromises test security and allows some potential applicants to have an unfair advantage,” Early said in an email.

She said she will abide by whatever the Attorney General’s Office advises Lusher.

But Benjamin Franklin High School, a top-ranked school in the city, names its entrance exam in its admissions policy: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Duris Holmes, chairman of the Ben Franklin board, said he’s not concerned about anyone gaining an unfair advantage because the school uses different versions of the test.

Test security expert James Wollack said Riedlinger could have a valid concern. “For all we know, it could be something freely available,” he said.

If so, “knowing the name provides potentially some individuals the opportunity to track down a copy of the test,” said Wollack, an associate professor of educational psychology and the director of testing and evaluation services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Riedlinger said that a “limited number” of Lusher employees know the name of the test.

Ten years ago, Gambit reported that Lusher and Audubon Montessori (now Audubon Charter School) used the Metropolitan Readiness Test for admissions.

Audubon no longer uses this test, Principal and CEO Janice Dupuy said. Riedlinger did not answer an email asking if Lusher still uses it.

Without knowing the name of the test, Wollack said, it’s hard for anyone to know if Lusher is using a valid method to decide who can get into the school.

“It’s about what that thing measures and how well it’s working for the intended purpose,” he said.

The Lens asked Riedlinger if she would provide information showing that the test is valid. She said she could contact the testing company to get it.

As for the name, she said Lusher will leave it up to the Attorney General’s Office ”to make the decision as to whether or not this policy should stand, and follow his opinion.”

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