NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Disparate Impact" Guidelines Could Jeopardize College Tests

May 26, 1999

The Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education earlier this month began circulating among educators a draft of a booklet intended to help schools decide how they can use standardized tests without being sued. But the proposed guidelines could open the floodgates to more lawsuits over racial and gender score disparity on the widely-used SAT and ACT exams, educators complain.

  • Educators and testing organizations are warning the guide could have the effect of virtually outlawing the use of tests by encouraging students and their families to sue over alleged discrimination.
  • Minority and female students have consistently scored lower on average than white students and men on SAT and other standardized tests.
  • The document states that "the use of any educational test which has a significant disparate impact on members of any particular race, national origin, or sex is discriminatory," unless the school can prove that it is educationally necessary and that a practical alternative to the test does not exist.
  • The guide encourages schools to consider alternatives to test scores to ensure increased representation of minorities and women,

Officials at the College Board, which sponsors the SAT, described themselves as "stunned" and said they had "no idea this has been in process for four years." They called the guide "basically a blueprint for litigation" and warned that any test that doesn't have equal results by group could trigger an Office of Civil Rights investigation.

Educators fear the guide will be used by judges and lawyers to interpret civil rights law.

Experts say the impact of the guide goes beyond the question of college admissions. States are in the process of requiring students to pass standardized tests to graduate. Educators wonder how so-called "anti-discrimination" efforts by federal regulators will affect that process.

Moreover, will Washington's next target be standardized tests used for professional certification -- such as for doctors, lawyers and engineers? Experts point out that similar racial disparities appear in the results of those tests.

Source: Amy Dockser Marcus, "Standardized Test Guide Could Lead to Lawsuits," and Edward Blum and Marc Levin (both of the Campaign for a Color-Blind America Legal Defense and Educational Foundation), "Washington's War on Stadardized Tests," both in the Wall Street Journal, May 26, 1999.


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