Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Ci

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Civil Liberties The National Newsletter of the ACLU #380, Spring 1994 (c) 1994 American Civil Liberties Union The FairTest Case: Nothing Special, Just Equality by Marcia Thurmond On February 15, the ACLU Women's Rights Project filed an administrative complaint against the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the College Entrance Examination Board, challenging the use of a gender-biased test as the sole instrument for determining semifinalist status in the National Merit Scholarship competition. The test is the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT)/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). The ACLU, representing FairTest (the National Center For Fair and Open Testing) filed its complaint in New York City with the U. S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, Region Two. It contends that by choosing 15,000 semifinalists a year based on their test scores alone, ETS and the College Board "significantly assist" the test's discrimination against females in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The ACLU action builds on a Women's Rights Project lawsuit, Sharif v. New York State Education Department, that successfully challenged the manner in which New York State Regents Scholarships and Empire State Scholarships were awarded. In Sharif, a federal district court judge ruled that basing the Regents and Empire awards on SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) scores alone was a discriminatory practice. Following the court's issuance of a preliminary injunction, the case was settled when the defendants agreed to use a combination of grades and SAT scores for determining scholarship recipients. One purpose of the National Merit Scholarships is to reward those students deemed to have the greatest potential for success in rigorous college study, and each year, more than one million high school students enter the competition by taking the PSAT/NMSQT -- a test that consists primarily of former SAT questions. ETS has acknowledged that the SAT overpredicts the college performance of males, while underpredicting that of females, and that high school grades are a more accurate predictor of college performance. Despite that knowledge, ETS and the College Board continue to cosponsor the use of the PSAT/NMSQT as the sole mechanism for determining semifinalist status. Females on average receive better grades in both high school and college than males, yet they receive lower PSAT/NMSQT scores. Thus, although 55 percent of those competing for National Merit Scholarships are female, females make up only about 40 percent of the semifinalists and, ultimately, of the award recipients. In choosing finalists, the scholarships' sponsors do take factors other than the test scores into consideration, such as teacher recommendations, the number of academic courses studied, grades and community service activities. But this happens only after the semifinals, at which point 60 percent of those eligible for the finals are male. Of the scholarship recipients, 60 percent are male. The ACLU's suit has been criticized as seeking some type of special treatment for females, the critics presumably regarding the administered test as an objective measure of intelligence; if females perform less well than males, they simply are not as intelligent as males. The fact is that no credible evidence exists to indicate that females are less intelligent than males. Credible evidence is available, however, to suggest that cognitive differences between females and males, if any, are slight, with females having a slight advantage in verbal skills, and males having a slight advantage in math skills. Were the PSAT/NMSQT truly objective, those slight advantages would cancel each other out -- which does not happen. The ACLU is seeking, not special treatment for females, but equal opportunity for females to compete for the valuable and prestigious National Merit Scholarships. -------------------- Marcia Thurmond is a staff attorney with the Women's Rights Project of the ACLU. ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher://aclu.org:6601 | American Civil Liberties Union National Office ftp://aclu.org | mailto:infoaclu@aclu.org | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"

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