Sunday, August 21, 2011

South Carolina Parents Challenge Standardized Testing

In a U.S. Supreme Court determination, Troxel v. Granville, the justices relied on the 14th Amendment:

(a) The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause has a substantive component that “provides heightened protection against government interference with certain fundamental rights and liberty interests,” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720, including parents’ fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children, see, e.g., Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651. Pp. 5—8.

South Carolina appears to have ignored this fact with regard to two cases where parents requested their children not participate in standardized testing.

Gretchen Herrera's son has a complicated medical condition, which is exacerbated by testing regimes. His medical team recommended he not be tested as it puts his health at risk. The request was denied, Mrs. Herrera allowed testing, and after the first day of testing, his health was negatively impacted. If a parent had neglected the health and well-being of their child, they'd find themselves in court with the government stepping in to protect the child. In this case, the government is endangering the child and ignoring the parent. Grumpy Educators reported her situation here. She has taken her request all the way to Washington D.C., and her battle continues this year.

Sharon Johnson's son has a complicated medical condition, and was treated in "an outpatient day treatment to stabilize children with severe emotional and/or behavioral problems. Among other criteria, admitted children must have demonstrated behavior serious enough to jeopardize the safety of others." Upon completion of treatment, he enrolled in public school and slated for standardized testing. In spite of a written medical recommendation that "he was mentally unable to be tested", South Carolina insists if a child can attend school, the child can be tested.

Ms. Johnson believes it is discriminatory to "require mentally unable students to take the exam when physically unable students are exempt, and she's filed a federal Office of Civil Rights complaint to that end." Her case is in process. Read more here.

District officials said this was not a question of fairness to disabled students, but rather following state and federal laws. The school district attorney put it this way:
"It's about measuring the school and district performance," Emerson said. "That's the way the standards are applied."

In the 1925 U.S. Supreme Court decision Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the finding included:
The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right and the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

Is the State endangering the health and well-being of these students by ignoring medical recommendations?


  1. NCLB has to die, and not be replaced.. that eliminates the need for most of the Fed DoED and would severally limit their authority to create asinine regulations...

    Also find it hard to believe the state has no local discretion in special cases

  2. I don't understand. Why did the parents not just keep the child home during the testing window?

  3. Great question. They did keep them home during the testing window; however, it appears in South Carolina staying home doesn't exempt students from testing (make up is required) and apparently those days are counted as unexcused absences. There are consequences and those consequences differ from state to state.

    One report from a Texas parent stated that missing test days counts as an unexcused absences, which could lead to $$ penalties and potential jail time.

  4. They have extended testing windows to 2 to 4 weeks. Who can keep their child out for that long?

  5. If the medical professionals have recommended that the students not be tested because of their unique set of medical conditions, then why does the State put the testing mandate above the health and well-being of the child?

  6. This is complete foolishness. Parents should have the right, and I believe they do have the right, to opt their kids out of testing----with or without a medical condition.

    In these states that force the issue, if parents are able, I suggest they withdraw their child from school prior to the test window and wait to re-enroll until after the test window is over. I realize this may not be possible for some parents.

  7. Anonymous - Mrs. Herrera was advised last year that if he son did not complete the testing, he was no longer welcome to come to the charter school, a place where he was thriving and happy. She took her case through the chain of command. This year she reports she was asked to sign a form consenting to testing. She refuses to give permission. These parents may end this type of foolishness, spare families the additional stress and grief, and ensure the health of children is not compromised for a testing program. I wish them good luck and honor their efforts.

  8. NOTE: Mrs. Herrera indicates she was advised if she kept her son home during testing days, he would be marked as a truant and she could face jail time.

  9. NOTE: Mrs. Herrera indicates that the SC DOE said that showing up, signing in, and leaving would not be held against her son. She says: "I did, it did."

  10. REFERENCE MATERIAL: Standardized Tests and Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder

  11. To update our case (Johnson family), our OCR complaint was accepted, an attorney was assigned, and now an investigation has begun. We also had to file a retaliation claim against the school district because they contacted my son's doctor in an attempt to have the doctor withdraw the medical opinion that my son was mentally unable to test.

    To answer a question above, we could not keep my son home for the two weeks of testing for several reasons. His doctor advised us that to keep him out of his self-contained classroom for 2 weeks was not in his best interest. Also, the SC Dept of Education advised me that such absences would be unlawful and that if a student refused to test, there could be disciplinary action. And then if we did keep him home anyway, that would do nothing to help the next child who was forced to take the test against the wishes of his parents and doctor.

    Though my son's circumstances were unique, the problems with high-stakes testing and the "teaching to the test" philosophy affect all public school students.

  12. Thank you Sarah for the update. Please keep Grumpy Educators posted on how this case evolves.

  13. Do parents have the right to Opt Out in Florida?
    One Leon County parent tried in the spring and according to the report, there's no state regulation that addresses this. Let's hope Florida legislators don't get any ideas.

    Here's the story:

    The article states:
    A spokesperson from Leon County Schools says they can't tell parent's what they should or should not do, but the law does tell educators what they must do.

    "The test will be put in front of every one of our students on the test next week or during the makeup test. What happens after that moment is kind of just out there."

    In other words, teachers must hand out the test, but they can't make a student complete it. Bittner says she's not concerned about the repercussions of her decision, because as far as she understands, there really are none.

    Florida Statutes state that all students in Florida Public Schools must participate in standardized testing, but there's no exact wording to explain what would happen if a child refused to take the test.

    The statute does, however, state that if a student does not meet specific levels of performance, he or she must be given additional assessments.

  14. If the Florida test about which we are speaking is the FCAT, I was told that the student does not pass to the next grade unless the student passes the FCAT.

  15. @LouAnn - Excellent point. Only two parents opted out in Florida last year. The consequences on the student were not clearly reported in the press. I don't think they were held back; however, without passing the FCAT, at high school, students don't graduate. The FCAT, as a graduation requirement, is being phased out at high school and replaced with the new end-of-course exams. Florida is a member of one of the new testing consortia tests. How schools and school districts across the state handle increased opting out requests in the future remains to be seen.

  16. The paentis in a perfect Catch 22 situation. Keep your child home during the test window and you risk accusation of truancy. Or subject your child to testing and risk his/her health and you risk accustion of child abuse! This high-stakes testing just doesn't work, esp. for elementary school children. It is beyond ludricous and needs to go.

  17. Anonymous - If you haven't already, you might read the follow-up blogs on the S.C. story. One parent still refusing to have her son tested due to the complex medical condition received notification from the publicly funded virtual charter school that her son was kicked out because of her refusal. The good news is that her son is in a better situation now; however, that does not change the fact that the school would prefer to endanger the life of a student than force the taking of a test. There is no regulation that forces a student to take these tests.

  18. The problem with the govt. being involved in your child's education is the children are only being taught how to take a test. Not to think...they only teach ONE way to answer the questions, one way to solve the problems, one way to repeat what they are told. Approximately 11 states allow children to opt out with the parent's consent, of course. My grandsons in NY will not be tested as per a request by their mother.
    Too much time is wasted in school when real instruction could be taking place because the idiots in Washington want everyone to think alike, act alike and perform alike. Last time I looked this was still the good old USA and parents had a lot to say about what their kids learned!