Dennis Persica: Lusher's reported resistance to revealing its entrance exam's name shows school needs dose of transparency _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- Lusher Elementary school is seen in New Orleans on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.

Lusher Charter School is the kind of institution that parents would wait in line for days to enroll their children in if they had to. But they don’t have to.

Lusher has an extensive set of instructions for enrollment, and waiting in line is not part of the process. Living in the right place is the best way to get in.

The school has an Uptown-based enrollment district, and it even conveniently lists the qualifying addresses for you. Of the addresses that qualify, there are three different streets with Audubon in the name, as well as Newcomb Boulevard, where house numbers don’t go above two digits. That’s classy.

Odd-numbered houses in the 6400 through 7400 blocks of St. Charles Avenue are good, and all on-campus housing at Tulane and Loyola universities also qualifies.

For students entering kindergarten, residence in the district is enough. Once all of the in-district kids have been accommodated, half of the remaining seats are allocated for the children of full-time Tulane employees and graduate students. The other half of the remaining seats go to Orleans Parish kids outside the district.

The nondistrict applicants have to take a test, and that has become the focus of a dispute.

In an opinion piece on The Lens website, parent Jacob Landry said he asked Lusher Principal Kathy Riedlinger for the name of the test the kindergarten entrants take.

She refused, and last month she asked for an attorney general’s opinion as to whether she was required by the state’s Open Records Act to tell him.

The letter to the attorney general, however, is misleading, making it sound as if Landry had requested the actual test instead of just its name. It warns, for example, that “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 wants just the name of the test, not the questions, but Riedlinger says even knowing the name would compromise the exam.

We already know the name of tests at all levels of the education system. Knowing the name of the Iowa tests, or the ACT and SAT exams, doesn’t ensure good scores on them. Knowing that the LSAT is what you have to take to get into law school doesn’t mean you’re going to ace it. The same is true of the GRE for graduate schools or the MCAT for medical schools.

Riedlinger has said that only a few people at Lusher know which test the school gives. That in itself should be a cautionary sign.

If knowing the name is key to performing better on it, then a few Lusher employees are in possession of some very valuable information. What assurance does the school have that those employees won’t leak the information to selected people? For that matter, what assurance does the public have?

Letting everyone know the name of the test is a much better way of handling this than letting only a few people in on the secret.

Landry said he also wants to know if Lusher’s test is in fact an IQ test, which is forbidden under state law.

Orleans Parish School Board spokesman Matt Broussard told The Lens that the board doesn’t know which test Lusher is using and hasn’t asked, “because we respect their autonomy.”

In other words, there may be a violation of state law going on, but nobody wants to find out.

No one can argue that Lusher isn’t an excellent school. But a little more transparency in how it chooses who may attend would be a step in the right direction.

Dennis Persica’s email address is dpersica@theadvocate.com.