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Newspapers unable to procure early disclosure of student test results

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         MASSACHUSETTS         Freedom of Information         Nov 20, 2000    

Newspapers unable to procure early disclosure of student test results

  • A Superior Court judge denied a preliminary injunction that would have ordered the state to make public the test scores because the time limit for disclosure had not expired.

The state Department of Education does not have to publicly release statistics from the controversial statewide assessment test before Nov. 21 as a result of a hearing before a Superior Court judge in Boston.

The ruling by Judge Ralph Gants on Nov. 16 followed requests by a Boston Globe reporter who asked the department for district-by-district, school-by-school results of the test taken in May. In past years, the results are released in November.

Scott Greenberger made an initial oral request in October and renewed his request with a Freedom of Information letter on Nov. 8. The state education department did not respond to either query.

The department told the court at the hearing on Nov. 15 that it received the statistics from the private test contractor one day earlier. The Boston Globe asked for a preliminary injunction ordering the Department of Education to release the results.

Still in its infancy, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test, known locally as MCAS, has been the subject of public debate since 1998. Supporters and detractors alike use the students’ success rate on the test to support for their respective arguments. The decision by state educators to use MCAS as a graduation requirement has become the central issue of the public debate.

In denying the injunction, the judge wrote, the newspaper’s request is not one which requires faster disclosure than required by the Public Records Act. According to the judge’s interpretation of the statute, the department may comply with the newspaper’s request within 10 days without running afoul of the law. The Boston Globe argued the 10-day clock should have started ticking when Greenberger made the oral request in October. To the contrary, the judge wrote, a public records request must seek a public record, and the information the department had at the time of the October request did not meet this definition.

“It became a ‘public record’ only when it was ‘received’ by ‘any officer or employee’ of the Department, which the Commissioner attests did not occur until November 14, 2000. Therefore, the ten day deadline for compliance did not commence until November 14,” Gants wrote of the test results in his nine-page order.

The Boston Globe had the support of the Secretary of State William Galvin, who wrote an advisory opinion on Nov. 15. The Springfield Union-News intervened in the case as well.

(Globe Newspaper Co. v. David Driscoll and Massachusetts Dept. of Education; Media counsel: Mark Batten, Bingham Dana, Boston) SM

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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