Appeals Court Affirms Florida’s Grade School Reading Tests

(CN) – A Florida appeal court has struck a blow for standardized testing in elementary schools, tossing out a lower court ruling in favor of members of the “opt out” movement and holding several local school districts were right not to promote kids who didn’t take the tests.

In its March 7 ruling, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee said Florida has a “laudable purpose” in testing the reading skills of third graders, and to demand anything less is doing a “disservice to the student — and the public.”

About 4,600 parents belong to the Opt Out Florida Network, a group that contends to much weight is given to the annual Florida Standards Assessment tests and that school districts have other means of determining whether or not a student reads  at a satisfactory level.

Leon County, Fla. Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers sided with the parents and said the school district defendants in the original lawsuit brought by 14 parents were wrong not to promote third graders who refused to take the state reading test during the 2015-2016 school year.

In each case the students, who attended class in Broward, Hernando, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Sarasota, and Seminole counties, had simply signed their names to the English Language Arts assessment test and left the rest of the test blank.

The parents sued the school district’s before the start of the current school year, claiming that keeping their kids in the third grade violated the children’s rights to due process and equal protection under the state and federal constitutions.

But in a ruling written by Judge T. Kent Wetherell, the appeals court said the approach the parents were advocating should remain the exception rather than the rule.

“The purpose of the ELA is to assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before (and after) being promoted to fourth grade,” Wetherell wrote.

“The test can only achieve that laudable purpose if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability.”

The school districts did not appeal on the basis of the validity of the tests alone, but also on the grounds that each should have been sued in their respective circuit courts.

Here too, the appeals court agreed with the defendant school districts, holding that “[i]t is well established that school boards and other governmental entities may only be sued in their ‘home venue’—the county in which they maintain their headquarters — unless (1) an exception to the home-venue privilege applies or (2) the privilege is waived by the governmental entity.”

None of the school districts waived their home venue privilege, and none of the exceptions to the privilege applied, Wetherell wrote.

The appeals court also ruled that temporary injunctions issued against  the Hernando County school district and the Florida Department of Education were overbroad and “inconsistent with the law.”

Andrea Mogensen, the Sarasota attorney who represented the parents says the plaintiffs are now considering whether to appeal.

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