CBEST Decision Appealed

Teacher & Employment Testing

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) won a procedural victory when federal District Court Judge William H. Orrick ruled that the case can proceed as a class action. The suit charges that the test illegally discriminates against prospective teachers from minority groups (see Examiner, Fall 1992). The case is expected to go to trial early next year.


An estimated 40,000 African American, Latino and Asian educators have been denied employment opportunities in California public schools since the test was implemented in 1982. All prospective teachers, administrators and counselors must pass the CBEST to work in California public schools.


The class action designation is unusual in that all the minority groups are united in one class. The state unsuccessfully argued that the interests of the groups were different, so they should not be treated together. The designation means that members of all three groups will be protected if the suit is successful. The judge also ruled that the minority teachers organizations participating in the suit on behalf of their members can remain parties to the litigation. The state had sought to remove them from the case.


The plaintiffs charge that the test is racially biased and fails to measure any skills not previously demonstrated by minority test-takers. California already utilizes several other means to ensure its teachers are literate, explained plaintiffs attorney John Affeldt, citing degree and credential requirements and other teacher competency tests. The CBEST is pure political propaganda, arbitrarily skimming off qualified minorities under the mantle of massaging public confidence. The test is produced by the Educational Testing Service, which also makes the National Teacher Exam (NTE).


Plaintiffs allege the state arbitrarily set a cut-off score designed to fail 25% of the test-takers. The test has been a roadblock that has nothing to do with teaching and which serves only to lock out people of color, explained Betty Holmes, an African-American who recently passed the test after years of trying. CBEST pass rates are 80% for Whites, 59% for Asian Americans, 49% for Latinos, and 35% for Blacks. Meanwhile, the minority student population in the state is growing rapidly.


Plaintiffs earlier won a crucial decision from Judge Orrick when he ruled that the CBEST as used in California is not a licensing exam, but an employment test (see Examiner, Fall 1993). Employment tests are subject to different federal rules on racially disparate results than are licensing tests. The state will now have to show that the test is job relevant. The plaintiffs are confident the state will not be able to meet this standard.