CBEST Plaintiffs to Appeal

Teacher & Employment Testing

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the use of a test for new California teachers (see Examiner, Summer 1995) have vowed to appeal U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick's decision in favor of the State of California. Just prior to the trial, the State of California substantially modified its California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) after the state's own expert found that much of the math portion of the test was not job-relevant. However, Judge Orrick upheld the right of the state to require entering public school teachers and administrators to pass the modified version of the test, ruling that the requirement does not violate the plaintiffs' rights under Title II or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Plaintiffs' lawyer John Affeldt, of the San Francisco-based public interest firm Public Advocates, expressed disappointment that the Court did not require further changes in the test. Affeldt said that he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The class-action suit was first filed in 1992 on behalf of the Association of Mexican-American Educators (AMAE), the Oakland Alliance of Black Educators (OBAE), the California Association for Asian-Pacific Bilingual Educators (CAFABE) and eight individual educators (Examiner, Fall 1992).


In 1993 Judge Orrick ruled that the test was not a state licensing exam but rather an employment test subject to federal laws requiring it to be related to performance on the job (Examiner, Fall 1993). The state then reviewed the test and found that at least 60% of the math section was not job-relevant. As a result, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing modified the test and extended the time allotted to complete the test. Despite better performance by minorities on the new math test, the State raised the minimum passing score so the percentage of minorities who passed was unchanged. California state records for the revised test show that the pass rate for whites is 73%, but only 38% for African Americans, 49% for Latinos, and 53% for Asians. Orrick even suggested that would be justified in setting a higher pass score.


Continued use of the CBEST means that thousands of rigorously trained and otherwise qualified minority teachers will continue to be locked out of their profession because of their performance on a test that, as Judge Orrick acknowledges, "does not purport, and was not designed, to predict a teacher candidate's performance on the job." As Affeldt noted, a performance-based assessment, such as portfolios, would be a better measure of classroom competence. "These are hard to do and they're expensive, and the state doesn't want to do them," he added.