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North Dakota

October 24, 2011

School District Misapplies Test Results

Home School Legal Defense Association assisted two member families in the Ellendale School District at the beginning of this school year when school officials insisted that low standardized test scores for their children triggered monitoring by a state-certified teacher and evaluation for need of special education services.

North Dakota law requires testing in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. Parents are required to submit the “basic composite score” to the local public school superintendent. Students who score below the 30th percentile are required to be evaluated to determine whether they have a learning disability. If the family is already being monitored by a certified teacher because the parent does not have a high school diploma or GED and the child scores below the 50th percentile, the monitoring must continue for an additional year and thereafter until such time as the student achieves a score on a later test at the 50th percentile or higher.

Problems for the HSLDA member families began when their testing service, Northwest Evaluation Association, did not compute their children’s scores as basic composite scores but as individual subject scores in math and reading. The child in one family scored above the 30th percentile in both subjects but below the 50th percentile in math. The child in the other family scored below the 30th percentile in math and below the 50th percentile in both subjects. In the absence of basic composite scores from the testing service, both families submitted the scores for the individual subjects to the school district. Unfortunately, after consulting with an official at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, the Ellendale officials attempted to utilize these scores to determine whether the students needed to be evaluated for a learning disability and needed to be monitored by a certified teacher. The school district notified both families that they would have to be monitored by a certified teacher for at least a year and insisted that the child who had scored below the 30th percentile in math be evaluated for need of special education services.

HSLDA advised both families to immediately retest their children using a standardized achievement test that would report a basic composite score and to submit this score to the school district. Additionally, HSLDA Senior Counsel Dewitt Black wrote the elementary principal of the Ellendale Public School who had been communicating with the families and pointed out that the law requires local school districts to make decisions about monitoring and evaluations for learning disabilities based on basic composite scores, not individual subject scores. Further, Black’s letter stated, the statute requiring monitoring of a home instruction program for an additional year and thereafter until the child scores at the 50th percentile only applies to parents who are already being monitored, not to parents who have a high school diploma or GED. In this instance, the teaching parent in both families had a bachelor’s degree and had never been monitored. Despite this information provided to the school district and despite the retesting that produced basic composite scores above the legal standard, Ellendale continued in its position until being contacted by a different official from the department of public instruction who agreed with HSLDA’s understanding of the law. As a result, the school district sent both families letters stating that neither one would be subjected to monitoring or evaluation for need of special education services.

Homeschooling families are obligated to submit basic composite scores on standardized tests to their local school district, even if the scorer of the test only reports individual subject scores. Given the difficulty encountered by the families in Ellendale, HSLDA recommends that parents determine in advance the method by which the scores will be reported for any particular test. Even so, this is no guarantee that the local school district will properly apply the law to the test results. Other families encountering similar difficulties should contact HSLDA for assistance.