Letter to Jeb Bush

Governor Jeb Bush
Office of the Governor
The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399

December 5, 2001

Dear Governor Jeb Bush

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) recently uncovered troubling data regarding Florida's Bright Futures scholarship program. Proportionately few African American and Latino high school graduates received a Bright Futures scholarship for the 1999-2000 school year as compared with their White and Asian American peers.

While African Americans comprised 14.4% of all SAT and ACT takers, they received only 3% of all Academic Scholars Awards and only 8.3% of Merit Scholarship Awards. Latinos, who made up 13.7% of all test takers, earned only 8.7% of the Academic Scholars Awards and 12.3% of Merit Scholarships. White students, by contrast, comprised 53.4% of test takers, yet received 76.3% of the Academic Scholars Awards and 71.5% of Merit Scholarships.

The use of SAT and ACT score cut-offs to determine eligibility is a major reason why proportionately few African American and Latino students received these lucrative scholarships. Students must score 1270 or higher on the SAT, or 28 or higher on the ACT, in order to qualify for Academic Scholars; the Merit Scholarship Award eligibility is set at a SAT of 920 or an ACT of 20. Yet in Florida the average SAT score was 857 for African Americans and 952 for Latinos, both of which are more than 300 points below the cut-off for the Academic Scholars Award. For Whites in Flordia, the average score was 1044. Other measures of academic preparation, such as grades, do not demonstrate such a great racial disparity. It is the high test score minimums, particularly for the Academic Scholars program, that put receipt of these awards far out of the reach of many students of color.

Furthermore, rigid test score cut-offs violate the College Board's own guidelines for test use, which state: "The following are examples of test uses that should be avoided…Using minimum test scores without proper validation on the basis of students' performance within the institution, and if appropriate, by specific programs or by student subgroups." There is no evidence that the SAT or ACT have ever been validated as a selection tool for Bright Futures scholarships.

Given that the two scholarships are worth 100% (Academic Scholars) and 75% (Merit Scholarship) free tuition at a Florida public university, or the equivalent amount at a private institution, the test score cut-offs result in African American and Latino students losing out on thousands of dollars in financial aid. Yet, these students tend to be among those who are most in need of financial assistance.

We, the undersigned, call upon you to take action on this matter. A first step in promoting equity and excellence is to eliminate the test score requirements for the Bright Futures scholarship program. Using test score minimums violates College Board guidelines and is not educationally justified. Moreover, current racial gaps in test score averages guarantee that a test score cut-off will lead to the perpetuation of a racially biased financial assistance program. Other criteria that could be considered instead of test scores include work experience, teacher recommendations, community service, school activities/honors, and future goals.

Thank you for considering this matter. Please contact Christina Perez, FairTest's University Testing Reform Advocate, at (857) 350-8207 with any questions or concerns. We will look forward to hearing about your proposals to address this problem.

Sincerely,

 

Christina Perez
University Testing Reform Advocate
National Center for Fair & Open Testing

 

Mario Blanco
Senior National Counsel
MALDEF

 

Adora Obi Nweze
President
Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches

 

James O. Simmons
President & CEO
Pinellas County Urban League, Inc.

 

Richard Danford
President & CEO
Jacksonville Urban League, Inc.

 

Raul A. Martínez
President & CEO
ASPIRA Florida, Inc.

 

Linda Winkle
President
Florida School Counselor's Association

 

 

 

cc: Commissioner Charlie Crist
Attorney General Bob Butterworth
Interim Chancellor Carl Blackwell, Florida Board of Education
Regina Sofar, Office of Equal Opportunity & Diversity, Florida Board of Education
Members of the Florida Board of Education: Secretary Jim Horne, Bill Proctor, Charles Garcia,
T. Willard Fair, Linda Eads, Phil Handy, Julia Johnson, Carolyn Roberts
Sen. John McKay, Senate President
Sen. James King, Senate Majority Leader
Sen. Tom Rossin, Senate Democratic Leader
Rep. Tom Feeney, Speaker of the House
Rep. Jerry Maygarden, House Majority Leader
Rep. Lois Frankel, House Democratic Leader
Members of the Florida Senate Education Committee: Sen. Alex Villalobos, Sen. Lesley Miller,
Sen. Anna Cowin, Sen. Buddy Dyer, Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, Sen. Daryl Jones, Sen. Ron Klein, Sen. Alfred Lawson, Sen. John Laurent, Sen. Richard Mitchell, Sen. Ken Pruitt, Sen. Jim Sebesta, Sen. Donald Sullivan
Members of the Florida House of Representatives Division of Colleges and Universities: Rep.
Bev Kilmer, Rep. Dennis Baxley, Rep. Philip Brutus, Rep. Sally Heyman, Rep. Perry
McGriff, Rep. Mitch Needelman, Rep. Allen Trovillion, Rep. Annie Betancourt, Rep.
Lindsay Harrington, Rep. Jim Kallinger, Rep. David Mealor, Rep. Eleanor Sobel, Rep.
Leslie Waters