South Carolina’s requirement that parents without a college degree take a “basic skills” qualification test was overturned by a unanimous ruling of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Zan Tyler, a South Carolina home-schooling leader, declared the decision “a slam-dunk victory.”
The case arose as a result of a provision in the 1988 home-schooling law passed by the state legislature, requiring home-schooling parents without college degrees to have a high school diploma and pass the Educational Entrance Examination (EEE), a test developed by the South Carolina Department of Education. However, the legislature required the Department to perform a validity study prior to enforcing the test requirement.
Home School Legal Defense Association filed suit in state court on May 24, 1989, challenging the validity study and the constitutionality of the testing requirement. The study was performed by IOX Associates from Los Angeles, a firm headed by Dr. James Popham, professor at UCLA.
The trial was held in September of 1990 and lasted for a full week as attorneys from the State Department of Education defended the EEE against HSLDA’s attack. Michael Farris was lead counsel for HSLDA in the case, assisted by both J. Michael Smith and Dewitt Black. At the time Mr. Black was in private practice in South Carolina, but he has since joined HSLDA's staff.
The trial resulted in a one-sentence opinion from the trial court, favoring the State Department of Education. HSLDA appealed the decision and filed extensive briefs in this precedent-setting case on the potentially explosive issue of testing parents. Oral argument was held in the South Carolina Supreme Court on October 31, 1991, before a packed courtroom of home school students and parents. Michael Farris argued the case for HSLDA.
Although appellate court decisions can sometimes take months, the court in this case issued its written opinion on December 9, 1991, just five weeks after the oral argument.
The court ruled that requiring parents to take an examination was constitutional since the legislature conditioned this requirement on a validity study. But the court went on to hold that professional standards required that a reasonable validity study must be conducted and that the IOX study was clearly unreasonable.
This constitutional ruling will serve as a severe deterrent to other states contemplating a parental testing requirement without also requiring a validity study.
The court examined several of the failures of the study emphasized in HSLDA’s briefs and arguments. Special attention was given to our contention that half the panelists were unqualified to conduct the study since they knew nothing about home schooling. IOX Associates failed to conduct any analysis of home schooling to inform these panelists of the skills necessary for home education. The court pointed out that the panelists who were home schoolers consistently scored the test lower in terms of its validity than the panelists who admittedly knew nothing about home schooling.
Michael Farris commented on the implications of this ruling for other states: “The net result of the court's examination of the technical failures of the IOX study will serve as a formidable obstacle to try to do another slap-dash validity study. A proper study will be extremely expensive, judging by the cost of this study—$44,000 for a 14-page report and a one-day meeting with the panelists.”
“We believed that parental testing was the wave of the 1990s. Home schoolers had succeeded in getting teacher certification requirements repealed in almost every state, but officials saw testing as a modern weapon to replace certification,” Farris added. “We viewed this law with the utmost seriousness as a grave danger which had the potential of spreading across the nation. Accordingly, we went after this South Carolina test with everything we had. We have learned a lot about the world of test validity. We are ready if any other state decides to try this again.”
Because of this decision the EEE requirement is unenforceable. Any parent with a high school diploma can now home school in South Carolina.