Legal Challenges to the Program, Status Report - 1979


The provision for the passing of the SSAT-II as a graduation requirement led to certain legal challenges to the statewide testing program. The first, brought by the National Association for the Advanced of Colored People in Dade county, contested the Department of Education's right to limit public access to the Functional Literacy Test. The case was dropped in June 1979.

The second challenge was brought by a Florida citizen, John Brady of Pinellas county, under the Administrative Procedures Act. This hearing sought to invalidate the scoring procedures used in 1977-78 on the grounds that correct administrative procedures had not been followed prior to utilization of the scoring system. The plaintiff was successful. However, the Department appealed the ruling to the District Court of Appeals and the court ruled in favor of the Department.

On August 15, 1978, the State Board of Education approved the original scoring methodology, with a few minor changes. That is, the portion of the scoring criteria which called for mastery of half the skills under any one standard was eliminated; the requirement which called for achievement of a certain number of items measuring any one standard was upheld. The number of correct items required for mastery of a standard is based on the number of test items measuring the standard and is generally 70 percent.

At this meeting the State Board also ruled that in the future the literacy test would be known as the State Student Assessment Test, Part II.

As a result of the State Board ruling on August 15, Mr. Brady challenged once again. This time he was joined by plaintiff Blount (Brady et al. and Blount et al. vs. State Board of Education, 1978). In this third challenge to the program, Brady and Blount argued that the criteria were arbitrary and unfair, but the hearing officer generally restricted the case to whether or not the economic impact statement was correctly filed and refused to address the issues surrounding the test itself. On October 23, 1978, the hearing officer ruled in favor of the State Board of Education, thus permitting the scoring procedures adopted by the Board to be implemented. This decision was appealed to the District Court of Appeals and was upheld.

The fourth legal challenge was filed in federal court in Tampa on October 16, 1978. Filed by the Bay Area Legal Services and the Center for Law and Education at Harvard, the case sought to have the literacy test declared unconstitutional because it allegedly (1) provided inadequate lead time, (2) covered material never taught, (3) stigmatized students who failed, (4) contained biased questions, (5) had not been checked for validity and reliability, and (6) did not apply to private schools in Florida.

The case was heard in May 1979. A ruling was issued in July 1979 which held that the date (1979) for making successful completion of the SAT-I a graduation requirement did not provide adequate notice or time to correct the learning deficiencies of students. Many of these deficiencies allegedly resulted from the former dual educational system. Thus, the State should not require passage of the SSAT-II as a graduation requirement until the 1982-83 school year. In the meantime, the SSAT-II could be used as directed by the Department of Education for the identification of education problems and for providing pertinent remediation. In addition, it was held that the SSAT-II scores could be retained in a fashion consistent with the manner in which the State retains other achievement test scores. Also, the Court was satisfied that the test had adequate content and construct validity and, "bearing a rational relation to a valid state interest," was not unconstitutional. Further, the test should not be invalidated for racial or ethnic bias; and the right of the State to apply the SSAT-II requirement only to public schools was upheld.

Florida's Commissioner of Education, Ralph D. Turlington, appealed this decision and indicated that the emphasis on diagnosis and effective remediation caused students who previously had failed to become successful achievers. There was strong belief across the state that the competency program had been effective in improving student achievement and, at the same time, fear that the delay in establishing the SSAT-II diploma requirement would interfere with the impetus gained during the initial years of the program.

The Court ruling did not affect the third, fifth, eighth, or eleventh grade basic skills portion (the State Student Assessment Test, Part I) of the Assessment Program. Successful achievement of the Minimum Student Performance Standards remained a requirement for promotion from third to fourth grade and for graduation from high school.