Civil Rights, Ed. Advocacy Groups Seek Racial Bias Probe of Bright Futures Scholarship Award Formula

for further information:
Christina Perez (857) 350-8207
Bob Schaeffer (941) 395-6773
for immediate release, Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Civil rights and education advocacy groups from Florida and around the nation are calling on state leaders to address “racial bias” in the formula used to award Bright Futures scholarships.

A letter delivered this week to top state officials charges that “rigid test score cut-offs” on the SAT and ACT result in, “[d]isproportionately few African American and Latino high school graduates” winning a Bright Futures scholarship for the 1999-2000 school year. Bright Futures Academic Scholars receive free tuition at any Florida public university while the program’s Merit Scholarships cover three-quarters of tuition. Equivalent funding is available for students attending private universities.

To qualify for the top scholarships, students must score at least 1270 on the SAT or 28 on the ACT. African American students received only 3 % of all Academic Scholars awards even though they comprised more than 14 % of all test-takers. Latinos, who made up almost 14 % of test-takers, won less than 9 % of the full tuition scholarships. More than three-quarters of the Academic Scholars award went to the 53 % of test-takers who are White.

For the Merit Scholarships, with cut-off scores of 920 on the SAT and 20 on the ACT, 8 % of winners were African American, 12 % were Latinos, and 72% were White.

The letter, initiated by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), was signed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Florida State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Branches, Pinellas County Urban League, Jacksonville Urban League, ASPIRA Florida, and the Florida School Counselor Association. The groups said that the Bright Futures award formula violates the guidelines of the SAT’s sponsor, the College Board, 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.”

“Reliance on SAT and ACT score cut-offs to determine eligibility is a major reason why this unfair disparity occurs,” explained FairTest University Admissions Testing Reform Advocate Christina Perez. “Instead of misusing test scores, the state should use alternative criteria such as teacher recommendations, school activities and honors, work experience and community service to select award winners.”

The groups’ letter concluding, “A first step in correcting this disparity is to eliminate test score requirements for the Bright Futures scholarship program,” has been delivered to Governor Jeb Bush, Education Commissioner Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bob Butterworth, members of the Florida Board of Education, state legislative leaders, and members of the Senate Education Committee and House Committee on Colleges and Universities.

A copy of the letter challenging the Bright Futures scholarship award formula is available here.