Disparate Impact

As with many licensure tests in other professions, white candidates pass teacher licensure tests at higher rates than black and Hispanic candidates. With repeated retaking, black and Hispanic candidates ' pass rates approach those of whites, but the differences are still substantial, and it is not certain how many candidates drop out of the pool after failing the test the first time. Nevertheless, the gap in eventual pass rates has contributed to practical problems for schools that want to hire a diverse teaching force, and it has led to legal challenges.

What is the performance gap? Although comprehensive national data are not available, results from Praxis provide some indication of its extent. From 1994-1997, 87 percent of whites, compared with 53 percent of African Americans and 77 percent of Hispanics, passed the Praxis I examination of basic skills. On the Praxis II tests of content and pedagogical knowledge, 92 percent of whites passed during the 3-year period, compared with 65 percent of African Americans and 46 percent of Hispanics (Gitomer et al., 1999). In this study, the researchers examined only the last test taken by examinees in the 3-year period. Thus, the proportion of candidates who passed may include those who failed initially and passed on a subsequent try; the failure rate may include those who passed after 1997.

Differential pass rates, in and of themselves, do not signify that teacher licensure tests are biased or otherwise unfair. But because of the differences in passing rates, licensure tests have been challenged in court on civil rights grounds. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from using employment practices that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or national origin.



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TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report Disparate Impact As with many licensure tests in other professions, white candidates pass teacher licensure tests at higher rates than black and Hispanic candidates. With repeated retaking, black and Hispanic candidates ' pass rates approach those of whites, but the differences are still substantial, and it is not certain how many candidates drop out of the pool after failing the test the first time. Nevertheless, the gap in eventual pass rates has contributed to practical problems for schools that want to hire a diverse teaching force, and it has led to legal challenges. What is the performance gap? Although comprehensive national data are not available, results from Praxis provide some indication of its extent. From 1994-1997, 87 percent of whites, compared with 53 percent of African Americans and 77 percent of Hispanics, passed the Praxis I examination of basic skills. On the Praxis II tests of content and pedagogical knowledge, 92 percent of whites passed during the 3-year period, compared with 65 percent of African Americans and 46 percent of Hispanics (Gitomer et al., 1999). In this study, the researchers examined only the last test taken by examinees in the 3-year period. Thus, the proportion of candidates who passed may include those who failed initially and passed on a subsequent try; the failure rate may include those who passed after 1997. Differential pass rates, in and of themselves, do not signify that teacher licensure tests are biased or otherwise unfair. But because of the differences in passing rates, licensure tests have been challenged in court on civil rights grounds. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are prohibited from using employment practices that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or national origin.

OCR for page 17
TESTS AND Teaching Quality: Interim Report Two appeals courts have ruled that Title VII does not apply to teacher licensure tests, because minimum standards for the profession are not employment standards. In Fields v. Hallsville Independent School District (906 F. 2nd 1017, 5th Cir., 1990), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit simply described the teacher-certification test as a licensure test. In a more recent case, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, ruling in a case involving the use of the California Basic Educational Skills Test, ruled that Title VII does not apply in part because school districts, not the state, were the employers of teachers. The court also ruled that the test was not biased and that no valid alternative, with less of a disparate impact, was available (Association of Mexican American Educators v. California, 183 F.3d 1055, 1070-1071, 9th Cir., 1999). A federal district court in South Carolina, however, relied on the standards of Title VII in its ruling on a teacher licensure test in that state. The court ruled that, despite a disparate impact on black applicants, the state was justified in using the test (the National Teacher Examinations) (United States v. South Carolina, 445 F. Supp. 1094, D. S.C., 1977). The U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed the lower court's ruling, in its only ruling on teacher licensure tests (National Education Association v. South Carolina, 434 U.S. 1026, 1978). The problem of disparate impact is not unique to teacher licensure tests. Indeed, other licensing tests, such as bar examinations, show similar gaps in passing rates (Klein and Bolus, 1997). However, the racial and ethnic disparities create particular problems in education, since many schools seek a teaching staff that is racially and ethnically diverse, particularly if they serve a large proportion of minority students. Although there are many factors that limit schools' ability to achieve this goal, the disparities in passing rates contribute to the difficulty schools face in attracting a diverse teaching staff. Evidence of the validity of test score information and the appropriateness of passing scores are needed to determine whether many blacks and Hispanics are screened out from public-school teaching inappropriately.