Court rules in favor of university in case of failed test

Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A District Court judge has ruled in favor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the case of an elementary education student who contended he should not have been required to pass a standardized English test in order to qualify for student teaching.

Judge Mark Wood ruled against William Hunt, who said the school unlawfully changed the requirements of its course catalog to prevent him from receiving a degree.

Hunt, 43, had applied to become a student teacher for the spring 2000 semester at UAF, a necessary step in obtaining an education degree. Though he held a 3.58 grade point average at the time, school officials believed his reading and writing skills were deficient and ordered him to pass Praxis I, a standardized exam, before he could enter the student teaching program. Hunt took the exam twice in 1999 but failed the writing portion of the test.

In a January hearing, UAF attorney Paul Eaglin contended that imposing the added requirement was within the school's rights as an academic institution.

''They were rather concerned -- deeply, in fact -- about his writing and his reading,'' Eaglin noted. ''They chose to decide to guide him along.''

Hunt counsel Bill Satterberg countered that UAF had breached a contract with Hunt -- his freshman year course catalog -- by imposing the added requirement. Though passing Praxis I is now a requirement for entering the School of Education and beginning student teaching at UAF, it was not at the time of Hunt's matriculation. The university allows students to graduate under any course catalog within seven years of their starting school.

''I think we are clearly dealing with a contract issue here,'' Satterberg said. ''The university is telling us that the catalog means nothing.''

Satterberg argued that UAF was attempting to cover its tracks after failing to provide Hunt with adequate preparation for the program, despite giving him high grades.

In his ruling on the matter, Wood concluded that the question of whether the course catalog represents a legal contract between school and student is irrelevant since UAF had not in fact failed to comply with the catalog.

The course catalog from Hunt's freshman year of 1996-97 states that admission to the student teaching program is contingent upon a number of measures, one of which is a set of satisfactory writing samples.

Wood noted that Hunt's writing samples were unanimously deemed unacceptable by the review board for admission into the program, at which point he was offered the Praxis requirement as an alternative measure. His rejection from the program was thus based as much on his essays as it was on the Praxis exam, Wood wrote in his decision.

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