N.C. Lawsuit Charges Test

K-12 Testing

Educate Our Children, a parents group, has filed suit in North Carolina Federal District Court challenging the Johnston County school district s use of scores on a state test to retain students in grade. The plaintiffs charge that the test is not valid for making decisions about student promotion and that African American students will be retained in grade disproportionately because of the test. The suit was filed with the aid of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. A request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the district from retaining students in grade at the start of this school year, based on their test scores, was denied in August.


While African American students are disproportionately likely to be held back, the plaintiff group, Educate Our Children, says the case is not simply about race. The group includes black, white and Latino parents, both poor and middle-class.


Educate Our Children had raised numerous complaints about the test and the way in which it was used, but the local school board dismissed their concerns. One father testified that his family had moved out of the county due to their son s emotional distress over being retained in grade after taking the test several times. Based on his record from his old school, the child was promoted in his new district.


Shortly before the judge ruled on the request for the preliminary injunction, the district made a number of policy changes, including the means by which students could obtain waivers from the test score requirement. The district admitted it did so because of the litigation. Between the policy changes, retesting, and summer school, the number of students to be retained dropped from an initial estimate of 3000 to between 200 and 500.


Though the policies have been clarified and fewer students retained, Educate Our Children plans to pursue the case. In the hearing for the preliminary injunction, noted psychometrician Richard Jaeger told the court that the margin of error for the test could range from 8 to 24 points, that he has seen no validation of the test for use as a determinant of grade promotion, and that grade retention does not lead to improved learning but does increase the dropout rate. For these reasons, he concluded that the policy should be scrapped.


Some other districts in North Carolina also use the state exams as grade-promotion hurdles, while still others incorporate the end-of-year tests as one part of a student's grade.