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ACLU Women's Rights Project and FairTest Charge ETS, College Board with
Gender Bias in Sponsoring Exam for National Merit Scholarship Selection
Embargoed for Release until
Wednesday, February 16, 1994
NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union's national Women's
Rights Project today filed a complaint on behalf of the National Center
for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) charging the Educational Testing
Service (ETS) and the College Entrance Examination Board (College Board)
with violating federal equal education law by administering and
cosponsoring the exam used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation
to determine eligibility for more than $25 million in tuition aid each
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office
For Civil Rights, states that reliance on the Preliminary Scholastic
Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT)
denies girls an equal opportunity to compete for and receive the awards.
Each year more than three-fifths of National Merit Scholarships go to boys
because they score higher on the PSAT/NMSQT, even though girls on average
earn better grades in both high school and college when matched for the
same academic courses.
"By using the PSAT/NMSQT as the sole basis for the initial
screening, ETS and the College Board deprive female students of an equal
opportunity to compete," said Marcia Thurmond, staff counsel with the
ACLU's national Women's Rights Project. "Young women are denied financial
benefits, honors, status and prestige on the basis of a test that ETS and
the College Board know is flawed," she said.
"Federal intervention is needed to ensure that girls get a fair shot
at these valuable scholarships," explained FairTest Executive Director
Cinthia Schuman. "Even the test-makers' own research admits that the SAT
underpredicts the performance of females and overpredicts the performance
of males. For years ETS, the College Board, and National Merit have
stonewalled well-documented protests from women's groups, civil rights
activists and academic experts."
The complaint asks the Department of Education to declare ETS and
the College Board in violation of Title IX regulations. Title IX of U.S.
education law prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating
on the basis of sex or significantly assisting in such discrimination. The
agency's Office For Civil Rights is responsible for enforcing the equal
opportunity requirements. Both ETS and the College Board receive
Education Department funds through a variety of contracts and grants. The
complaint does not target the National Merit Scholarship Corporation
because that organization does not directly receive federal funds.
Scores derived from the PSAT/NMSQT are the sole qualifying factor
for the selection of National Merit Semifinalists, eliminating more than
98 percent of all students from the competition. Annual research
conducted by FairTest shows that although 55 percent of competitors are
females, over 60 percent of Semifinalists each year are male, a nearly
identical percentage as National Merit Scholars.
ETS and College Board documents indicate that the so-called "new
PSAT" administered for the first time in October, 1993 will not eliminate
the gender bias because the test has not fundamentally changed. National
Merit Scholarships to be awarded in the spring of 1994 are based on the
old version of the exam.
In a 1989 lawsuit brought on behalf of 12 female high school seniors
by the ACLU national Women's Rights Project with the assistance of
FairTest, a federal district court judge declared New York State's system
of awarding college scholarships based solely on SAT scores to be
unconstitutional and in violation of Title IX.
A copy of the complaint is available on request.
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