Parents Use Federal Law to Challenge Florida Test Secrecy

K-12 Testing
The Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform (FCAR) has called on parents to request their children's graded Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) test sheets and test booklets, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Though parents in Washington state used FERPA successfully last year to get the state to reverse its policy of denying parents access to their children's test materials, and other states have policies allowing access, Florida parents have so far been rebuffed.


The first parent to petition for her children's test materials, Lara McKnight, wrote to Florida Education Commissioner John Winn: "With so much riding on the results of this single test, and the multitude of credibility issues that have arisen recently, it is my continued conviction that parents should have the opportunity to view their child's test."


According to Gloria Pipkin, president of FCAR and a participant in the FairTest-sponsored Assessment Reform Network, McKnight received a letter in July from the Department of Education denying her request. The letter, from Cornelia Orr, director of assessment for the Florida DOE, said that "it is not possible for the state to permit access to the FCAT answer sheets and test booklets. These are legally secure documents."


The DOE had previously appealed a state court decision allowing parents access to the tests (see Examiner, Summer 2005). A Florida Supreme Court judge appointed by Governor Jeb Bush issued a ruling overturning the lower courts' decisions. The DOE continues to enforce that ruling.


FCAR members base their contention that FERPA entitles parents to view test materials on a memo from the Florida DOE that cites text from the federal law, which says, "FERPA does provide parents with the right to inspect and review education records maintained by the SEA [State Education Agency] within 45 days of receipt of a request.... This includes, for example, State assessments administered by LEAs [Local Education Agencies, i.e., school districts] and maintained by the SEA." [emphasis in original].


FCAR's press release was prompted in part by Florida media reports in June calling into question the credentials of those hired to grade the FCAT. For example, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that hundreds of temporary FCAT evaluators had neither experience teaching nor degrees in the subjects they were grading. FairTest worked with FCAR leaders in questioning graders' credentials and in pressing for FCAT release to parents.


o The FCAR press release is available via