In what one expert called a victory for “fair and appropriate testing,” the South Carolina Supreme Court has thrown out a state requirement that parents must pass a test in order to teach their children at home.
Overturning a lower-court decision, the supreme court on December 9 ruled that the process used to determine whether the test is valid for gauging home schoolers' abilities “fail[ed] to meet a standard of reasonableness.”
The fact that many parents passed the test, the court ruled, “indicates the [testing] requirement has infringed little on parents' entitlement to home schooling; it does not, however, justify the imposition of such a requirement.”
Lawrence M. Rudner, the director of the federal Educational Resources Information Center Clearinghouse on Tests, Measurement, and Evaluation, said the ruling was one of the first in an education-related case to set standards for test validity. A long line of employment-related cases, by contrast, has determined whether tests measure what they are intended to measure, he said.
“This goes a long way toward ensuring fair and appropriate testing,” said Mr. Rudner, who testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the South Carolina case.
George Leventis, general counsel for the South Carolina education department, said that, in the wake of the ruling, the agency will no longer turn down appeals from parents who were denied permission to teach at home because of test performance.
In addition, he said, the legislature may decide to impose a different testing requirement for home-schooling parents.
But Superintendent of Education Barbara Nielsen said the state would continue to monitor home schooling through its requirement that studentstaught at home take statewide tests.
“I am more concerned about learning outcomes for students,” Ms. Nielsen said. “To me, That's what we need to concentrate on.”
Basic-Skills Test at Issue
The court's decision stemmed from a 1988 law that regulated home schooling in South Carolina.
Under the law, parents with a high-school diploma were entitled to teach their children at home, provided that the parents passed a basic-skills test known as the Education Entrance Examination.
The law also ordered the education department to conduct a study to determine whether the exam—which is normally administered to college students intending to enter teacher-training programs—was valid for assessing home schoolers.
Based on that study, which was conducted for the department by IOX Assessment Associates, a Los Angeles-based firm, the department approved the use of the exam for testing home schoolers, and began to implement the requirement in the 1989-90 school year.
In 1990, however, a group of parents filed suit to block the imposition of the testing requirement. The parents were aided by the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Virginia-based organization that represents 369 families in South Carolina.
The plaintiffs charged in court that the IOX study was improperly designed and executed, and the exam should not be used to restrict parents' rights to educate their children at home. (See Education Week, Sept. 19, 1990.)
Judge Ellis B. Drew Jr. rejected their claim, however, ruling in February that the validation study was conducted properly. Lawyers for the home schoolers then appealed their case to the state supreme court.
Panelists 'Not Qualified'
In overturning Judge Drew's decision, the state supreme court accepted the parents' arguments that the validation study was improper, since nearly half of the 33 members of the panel reviewing the test were unfamiliar with home schooling.
“Task-relatedness evaluations required a panelist to judge whether the E.E.E. item tested some knowledge or skill that was 'a necessary prerequisite to home schooling,'” the court's ruling states. “Sixteen of the panelists were not qualified to make this evaluation since they were given no information as to what the prerequisites for home schooling were.“
The court noted that panelists were not familiar with home schooling were more likely than others to find the test items related to home-schooling tasks.
The court also rejected the state's contention that the exam is appropriate for home schooling since it tests basic literacy, “an underlying qualification for teaching whether the educational setting is public school or home.”
Because the legislation required the validation of the test for home schooling, the court pointed out, the “legislature implicitly found the tasks of home schooling and public-school teaching too dissimilar to employ the validation of the E.E.E. that was already done for public-school teaching.”
W. James Popham, president of IOX Assessment Associates, said he stood by the firm's procedures and its conclusion that the test is valid for measuring the ability of home-schooling parents.
“It turns out that the power of attorneys to convince a technically unsophisticated jurist is more powerful than the caliber of a study,” Mr. Popham contended.
Re-Evaluating the Test
In the wake of the court's ruling, the state is considering other ways of regulating home schooling, according to Superintendent Nielsen.
She said she was discussing with the state's home-schooling association the possibility of having the association accredit home schoolers in the way other agencies accredit private and independent schools.
Ms. Nielsen also said the ruling had prompted state officials to reconsider the use of the Education Entrance Examination as a test for prospective teachers. She noted that many promising teaching candidates have been denied the opportunity to teach because they failed the exam.
“I think this is the kind of discussion we need to have,” she said.
Reprinted by permission of Education Week, Volume 1, Number 16, January 8, 1992.