EDUCATION WEEK Volume X, Number 3 • September 19, 1990, Reprinted by Permission
S.C. Suit Challenges Test for Home-Schooling Parents
By Robert Rothman
The test that South Carolina requires parents to pass in order to be allowed to teach their children at home is “insensitive, insulting, and unjust,” a lawyer for home schoolers argued in state court last week.
During a four-day trial, lawyers for the Home School Legal Defense Association, which represents 369 families in South Carolina, challenged a state-funded study that concluded that the test was valid for measuring parents' ability to teach their children at home.
The lawyers asked Judge Ellis Drew to grant an injunction against further use of the examination.
“There is no evidence that connects this test with home schooling,” said Michael P. Farris, a lawyer for the Virginia-based legal-defense association. “Our contention is, you shouldn't cut off the right to home schooling on a test that's irrelevant.”
Noting that the case is drawing widespread attention and has included nationally recognized testing experts as expert witnesses, Mr. Farris also issued a warning to other states that might consider requiring home schoolers to pass a test.
“When the word [of this case] gets out in the testing and measurement community,” he said, “anybody will be reluctant to tangle with testing home schoolers again. There will be a painful price to pay.”
South Carolina officials, however, defended the state board's decision to approve the use of the test, and argued that the test is suitable for evaluating home-schooling parents.
“The test is valid,” said Assistant Attorney General J. Emory Smith Jr. “The study was properly undertaken.”
Mandated in 1988
The case argued in the Richland County, S.C., courthouse last week stems from a 1988 law that regulates home schooling in the state.
The law requires home-schooled students to take statewide tests and establishes other safeguards. In addition, it mandates that parents who do not have bachelor's degrees pass a basic-skills test, known as the Education Entrance Examination, before being allowed to teach their children.
Arizona is the only other state to require parents to pass a test to qualify as home schoolers, according to Mr. Farris.
The South Carolina law also directed the state education department to validate that the test, which is normally required for college sophomores entering education programs, is appropriate for use on home-schooling parents. The department hired IOX Assessment Associates, a Los Angeles-based testing firm, to conduct the validation study.
The $40,000 study concluded that the exam is “an acceptable instrument for determining the reading, writing, and mathematics skills of prospective home-schooling instructors in South Carolina.” Based in large part on that recommendation, the department approved the use of the test for home schoolers, and began to implement it in the 1989–90 school year.
‘A Shoddy Job’
Mr. Farris charged, however, that the IOX study was “a shoddy job” that did not demonstrate that the test is valid for evaluating home schoolers’ qualifications.
He noted, for example, that even though one of two writing exercises on the test required examinees to write about a classroom situation that is not applicable for home schooling, the study found the test unbiased because the other writing exercise was equally appropriate for public-school and home-school teachers.
“Both were nonbiased for the public-school population, but one was biased against home schoolers,” Mr. Farris said. “That doesn't give everybody an equal shake.”
Mr. Farris said that half of the panel that evaluated the test as part of the IOX study had “never seen a home school.”
“They were in no position to judge whether a task was related to home-schooling or not,” he said. “They had no familiarity with the examinee population.”
Mr. Farris acknowledge that, despite these drawbacks, home schoolers passed the test at a slightly higher rate than prospective public-school teachers. But, he said, their success rate may reflect the fact that the test is easy, not that it is appropriate.
“Our claim is not that home schoolers are having a difficult time passing the test, because frankly they are not,” he said. “I can give you an easy test to determine whether you know the rudiments of football, but that's not valid for determining whether you can teach.”
In asking Judge Drew to dismiss the complaint, state officials argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they did not allege that any of the home schoolers failed the test.
In addition, W. James Popham, president of IOX, vehemently denied Mr. Farris's allegations and said his firm's study clearly showed that the Education Entrance Examination is valid for evaluating home schoolers.
“I think the study is really solid,” Mr. Popham said. “We knew it would be contentious, and there would likely be legal action, so we did it solidly.”
Mr. Popham also noted that his firm has conducted numerous similar studies since 1983, employing the same kinds of methods that were used to evaluate the South Carolina test.
The testing-firm president rejected, moreover, suggestions that the study was predisposed to find the test valid. “We didn't care whether the study made the test good or not,” he said.
In defending the test's validity, both Mr. Popham and state officials declined to comment on the substance of the state's home-schooling policy.
“The study suggests that the test is appropriate to use in that situation,” Mr. Popham said. “Whether home schoolers should be tested is another question.”