Law & Courts

Florida Court Rejects Father’s Bid to View State Test

By Darcia Harris Bowman — November 19, 2003 2 min read
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Copies of Florida’s standardized exams are not public records, and parents have no right to see them, a state appeals court has ruled.

That decision reverses a lower-court ruling that would have allowed a Florida father to see a state high school graduation exam that his son has repeatedly failed.

Pinellas County parent Steven O. Cooper sued the state in 2001 after education officials denied his request to view the testing booklets and answer sheets for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Students must pass the FCAT to advance to the 4th grade and to graduate from high school.

Mr. Cooper’s son still has not passed the high school exit exam.

Florida officials argued that allowing parents to have copies of the exams would force the state to spend millions of dollars annually to change the content of tests.

Last year, a trial court ordered the state to allow Mr. Cooper to view the test materials he had requested. The court ruled that the exam questions—like test scores—count as “students records” that parents have a right to see.

In overturning that decision this month, Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals held that the state’s student-records statute requires only the release of test scores.

Decision Praised

The student-records law “includes standardized achievement test scores, intelligence test scores, aptitude test scores, and psychological test scores, but conspicuously makes no mention of the test instruments themselves,” Judge Paul Hawkes wrote in the Nov. 6 appellate decision handed down by a three- judge panel.

“Thus, the plain language of the statute, when given its ordinary meaning, provides that standardized-test scores are student records,” he wrote. “The trial court’s interpretation renders the term ‘score’ meaningless.”

Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, praised the court for backing the state education department’s “20-year policy on test confidentiality.”

“The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has been a catalyst for student achievement, and today’s decision allows us to maintain meaningful standards, while giving parents and educators the ability to monitor student learning gains,” Mr. Bush said in a press statement. “As a result, Florida will continue to accurately measure students’ progress in fundamental education subjects, rather than their ability to memorize material.”

Mark Herdman, the Palm Harbor, Fla., lawyer who represents Mr. Cooper, indicated that his client would appeal. “We’ll do anything we can to get this to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Herdman was quoted as telling the St. Petersburg Times in a Nov. 7 article. “I think it’s unfortunate that the court believes the student-records laws exist to protect the government from the people, not to protect the people from the government.”

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