Madalyn Murray O'Hair
I had no idea who she was before you pointed this out. Thank you so much - I'm really glad to learn this interesting piece of organized atheist history.
I don't know how far back the practice extends, but what you might be referring to is a 'spiritual fitness' component on a test that deals with soldiers' ability to cope with warfare.
Here is an article on it (NPR).
Thankfully Jehovah's Witness' had The Pledge of allegiance thrown of the class room, but it kept creeping back. I recall that Madalyn Murray O'Hair put a final stop to it's recitation at school.
"There was discipline if the student didn't do this and the teacher wanted to hear each child. She would call out the ones that she couldn't hear or the ones she thought was lip synching."
I thought it was a person's right to not recite the pledge, student's included. Perhaps I'm mistaken.
What grades were the classes? Not that it should matter, but I can kind see how a young child would be taken less seriously for refusing to recite the pledge than a high school student.