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A 40-year-old woman is pregnant, but her doctor recommends an abortion after genetic testing reveals the unborn child has Down syndrome. What should the woman and her family do?
That question, part of a final biology exam for students at Utah Electronic High School, was removed from the school's computer-based tests Thursday after parent complaints.
Principal Kathleen Webb said it is unclear where the test question originated, but it does not appear to have been written by the school's biology teacher.
"The instant that I found it with her, we removed it from the test bank," Webb said. "It is not available to students."
Electronic High School sophomore Cody Okerlund, who took the test in a proctor setting at Stansbury High School, captured an image of the abortion question with his cellphone.
The image was posted online Wednesday by the blog Utahns Against Common Core, leading to critical debate and discussion among parents on social media.
The test question was presented to students in a multiple-choice format, asking which of four scenarios best describes how the pregnant woman and her family should decide to either abort the pregnancy or carry it to term.
The potential answers include: waiting and redoing the genetic testing closer to the baby's due date; trusting the scientific knowledge of the doctor and going forward with an abortion; prioritizing the wishes of the mother; and considering aspects like religious beliefs, financial burden and the effect on other family members before making "the best decision for everyone."
Oak Norton, an education activist affiliated with Utahns Against Common Core, said the question potentially violates Utah law by testing students' moral, political and religious views.
He also said it's telling that students didn't have the option of selecting an answer that respects the life of the unborn child.
"It's getting at, really, a survey of their beliefs," he said. "It's an opinion question, and it doesn't even include a full range of opinions."
Webb said the student broke testing rules by photographing the questions on his computer screen. But she said that action is superseded by the value of alerting school administrators to inappropriate test materials.
"In order of importance, the most important part is the students' welfare," she said.
Okerlund's mother, Lorri Higgins Okerlund, said she was proud of her son for speaking out about the test.
"This is a public school," she said. "We have every right to know what our kids are being asked and learning."
Utah law prohibits the testing or surveying of students on political affiliation and religious beliefs without prior written consent of parents.
Webb said she does not know whether the test question violated state law, but she intends to investigate that question, as well as the origin of the question itself.
"The test question was obviously inappropriate," she said.
Despite their concerns with the biology exam, Lorri Higgins Okerlund said her family has had a positive experience at Electronic High School.
She works as a substitute teacher in Tooele County and said it is not uncommon for students to encounter inappropriate materials in public schools.
"I'm just not surprised," she said. "We can expect worse, and I've read worse."