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Back to July Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 150 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JULY 1998
Sex Questions on Illinois Test Cause Uproar
Superintendent of Education Shocked, Calls Test 'Insensitive'
SPRINGFIELD, IL - The Illinois Goal Assessment Program (IGAP) and its chief administrator, State Education Superintendent Joseph Spagnolo, are under fire for a series of explicit sex questions that appeared on a pilot test given to 11th graders in 61 Illinois high schools. At issue are four questions dealing with HIV and STDs that were included in the Physical Development and Health section of the test. The questions contained references to oral and anal sex but made no mention of abstinence, despite Illinois law mandating that abstinence be taught as the "expected norm."

The multiple-choice questions asked children to select, for example, the most effective way to avoid getting a sexually-transmitted disease. Choices included: A. Having intercourse only with people you know; B. Limiting the frequency of sexual intercourse; C. Always using a latex condom and foam during sexual intercourse; D. Having only oral sex with your partner. Abstinence was not listed.

A parent's complaint prompted the state board of education to recall the test, but not before most of the students had already taken it. The ensuing publicity created a furor among educators, lawmakers, and the general public. State Senator Patrick O'Malley, vice chairman of the Illinois Senate Education Committee, said: "I hope that somebody accepts responsibility - all the way up to the superintendent - and that it's done promptly and before any other children are subjected to this trash." O'Malley is the sponsor of SB 1610, a bill to ban evaluations of feelings and attitudes on the IGAP tests, that passed the legislature this spring and is awaiting Governor Jim Edgar's signature.

Karen Hayes, representative of Concerned Women for America of Illinois, said the questions "made me ill," and called for crisis counseling to be made available to all 11th-grade children "who were subjected to the sexually-explicit government test questions." A spokesman for Governor Edgar's office agreed that "it was unfortunate that those issues, while important, weren't addressed in a more tactful manner." Even Planned Parenthood issued an embarrassed response.

Illinois newspapers screamed headlines such as "Conservatives fume over sex questions on state exam," and Superintendent Spagnolo issued an apology on behalf of the Illinois Board of Education. "I am as shocked and dismayed as anyone that questions as insensitive as these would be used on any kind of assessment of Illinois students," he wrote in a letter to the affected school administrators. He blamed the offensive questions on a rogue employee who, he said, sent out the tests without first having them reviewed by a committee of education experts.

But Illinoisans aren't buying it. The Rev. Robert Vanden Bosch, director of Concerned Christian Americans of Lake Zurich, said an apology cannot repair the harm done and that the children had been "mentally molested by the state board of education." An editorial in the June 5 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times was headlined "Excuses, excuses," and opined that blaming "an unnamed bureaucrat for this 'egregious error' was not good enough." The editorial contended that the questions were no mistake, but rather that they are "a window into the mind-set of educational bureaucrats and assorted activists determined to force their vision of permissive sex education on parents and students - even when the vision conflicts with Illinois law."

The editorial suggested that Spagnolo accept the offer of Project Reality Director Kathleen Sullivan to provide a "Power of Abstinence" seminar for the personnel in the Department of Education. Mrs. Sullivan made the offer in a letter to the superintendent, pointing out that Project Reality's abstinence-centered sex education program is being taught in 243 Illinois schools to more than 38,000 students. "The shocking void of any reference to abstinence in a proposed statewide IGAP test is a clear indication that your Department of Education is not aware of what is happening in abstinence education and how well such education is being received by Illinois students," Mrs. Sullivan wrote.

Project Reality issued a press release detailing the offer to the superintendent and describing the benefits of its "three-tiered abstinence education program." "The vast number of related benefits of abstinence until marriage is now becoming better understood," Mrs. Sullivan stated in the press release. "Adolescents also need to understand the consequences of new sexually transmitted diseases which were not even known to exist 15 years ago, and the lack of real protection from disease offered by the so-called 'safe sex' proponents."

Some legislators and pro-family groups say the test calls into question revisions to the IGAP tests that SB 1610 will require. "The new tests are to be individual high-stakes exams mandated for all students," Karen Hayes says. "Their supposed purpose is to test the new so-called 'state academic standards' which were approved last year. The appearance of these ominous test questions goes beyond the academic and raises speculation as to what course material is being taught in Illinois classrooms."

The Sun-Times editorial echoed Mrs. Hayes' concerns, adding, "The trend is for more state involvement in running local schools through such vehicles as testing and standards, already the subject of much controversy."

Though SB 1610 does allow some performance assessments in addition to multiple choice questions, it places restrictions on them and sets up an ongoing review team to be chaired by a parent. Sen. O'Malley and his supporters say the bill was necessary to ensure that the state's tests would be "academically based, with answers that are measurable."

Many parents look upon performance assessments as unreliable, subjective, privacy-invading, and controversial. Professor Herbert Walberg of the University of Illinois-Chicago says that performance assessments are "impractical and expensive" for testing large numbers of students, and that they have "low levels of reliability and validity."

The Illinois Goal Assessment Program pilot test contained the four following sexually-explicit questions:

  1. Which of these activities is least likely to expose a person to HIV?
    1. Engaging in French kissing.
    2. Sharing intravenous drug needles.
    3. Having unprotected sexual intercourse.
    4. Receiving a blood transfusion.

  1. Which of these is the most effective way to avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
    1. Having sexual intercourse only with people you know.
    2. Limiting the frequency of sexual intercourse.
    3. Always using a latex condom and foam during sexual intercourse.
    4. Having only oral sex with your partner.

  1. Of the following sexual behaviors, which would put a person at the greatest risk of getting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?
    1. Giving hand-genital stimulation without a latex condom.
    2. Receiving oral - genital stimulation without a latex condom.
    3. Masturbating
    4. Having vaginal intercourse without a latex condom.

  2. Of the following sexual behaviors, which would put a person at the least risk of getting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)?
    1. Engaging in open-mouth kissing.
    2. Receiving hand-genital stimulation without a latex condom.
    3. Having anal intercourse with a latex condom.
    4. Giving oral-genital stimulation with a latex condom.


 
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