Florida State Scholarship Program Unfairly Discriminates, Say Civil Rights and Educational Groups

August 26, 2002

CONTACTS: J.C. Flores, MALDEF (213) 629-2512, ext. 124
Bob Schaeffer, FairTest (239) 395-6773

(MIAMI, FLORIDA) On the eve of the day the College Board plans to release reports detailing national SAT results, MALDEF, a Latino civil rights organization, and FairTest, an advocacy group for fair and open testing, have filed a legal complaint against the state of Florida’s “Bright Futures” scholarship program, charging that its use of college admissions tests such as the SAT I and ACT discriminates against Latino and African American students. In addition, a number of other civil rights and educational groups have joined the complaint, including the Hispanic Coalition, Inc., the Florida NAACP, LULAC, Jacksonville Urban League, and the Hispanic American Alliance.

At a press conference, the groups outlined their complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, whose regulations implement Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Florida’s discriminatory actions in administering its $164 million a year scholarship program could endanger federal Title I educational funding for the state, which has amounted to about $1 billion over the last three years.
The complaint, in part, states:

· The Bright Futures program, under Florida statute, is supposed to “reward any Florida high school graduate who merits recognition of high academic achievement.” Yet the program requires a minimum cutoff score for the SAT I and ACT tests (1270 SAT I score or a 28 ACT for a full scholarship to a Florida public university, 970 SAT I and 20 ACT for a partial one), regardless of the student’s high school achievement. A federal court has found that college admissions tests are not a valid measure of high school achievement. Even the College Board – which administers the SAT I – admits that the test attempts to predict future first-year grades in college and does not measure past academic achievement.

· Otherwise high-achieving Latino and African American high school students find themselves at a disadvantage when taking standardized tests such as the SAT I and ACT. For a variety of reasons – including cultural bias and the inability to pay the sometimes $800-plus for test preparation courses – Latino and African-American students have lower admissions test scores. As a result of Bright Futures’ minimum test score requirements, white students receive the lion’s share of scholarships. In 2001, the percentage of white students in Florida reaching the 1270 score was 12.2%; Latinos 5.6% and African Americans 1.4%. In other words, the percentage of white students eligible for scholarships was more than double that of Latinos, and nearly 10 times that of African Americans.

· MALDEF and FairTest are asking the State of Florida to give greater weight to real measures of high school achievement in the scholarship process. For example, the state could use a minimum grade point average (GPA) or class rank (which would control for grade inflation) or a combination of both. Or, the state could utilize screeners who would consider multiple criteria to identify high academic achievement.
“Florida’s poorly designed, inflexible cut-off scores yield illogical results that do not comport with any understanding of academic achievement,” states the complaint. “Florida would deny a valedictorian with a 4.5 GPA and a 1260 score on the SAT I while awarding the same scholarship to a lower-ranked student with a 3.5 GPA and a 1270 score on the SAT I. Florida’s scholarships are poorly designed, in part, because no amount of academic excellence exhibited over a student’s high school career can outweigh a single point on the ACT or 10 points on the SAT I.

“This discriminatory [Bright Futures] program disproportionately excludes qualified Latino and African American students from receiving scholarships by utilizing selection criteria that are not educationally necessary. Unless restrained from continuing to select scholarship recipients in this manner, the class of Latino and African-American students, who are qualified as scholarship recipients, will suffer serious, irreparable harm.”

Tomorrow, the College Board plans to release reports detailing the national SAT I results, which civil rights and education groups contend will further establish the discriminatory effects of the test and the dangers of misusing it.

A national nonprofit organization, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, higher education scholarships and when necessary, through the legal system.
FairTest (The National Center for Fair & Open Testing) is an advocacy organization working to end the abuses, misuses and flaws of standardized testing and ensure that evaluation of students and workers is fair, open and educationally sound.

What Civil Rights and Educational Organizations
Have to Say About “Bright Futures”

Victor Viramontes, Staff Attorney

“Florida’s use of inflexible minimum SAT and ACT scores yields illogical results that do not comport with any understanding of academic achievement. Due to the scholarships’ failure to accurately recognize academic achievement, Florida directs essential college funds away from deserving Latino and African American students.”

Christina Perez, University Testing Reform Advocate

“The national trend toward state-funded ‘merit’ scholarships with test score requirements robs African American and Latino students of the opportunity to access affordable higher education. Reliance on SAT and ACT cut-offs like those used to determine Bright Futures eligibility is an unsound and improper use of test scores that clearly violates test-maker guidelines.”

Florida State Conference of NAACP
Adora Obi Nweze, President

“One of the most powerful ways to increase African American enrollment within Florida’s university system is to make higher education more affordable. The Bright Futures scholarship dangles that opportunity in front of minority students, only to take it away by using discriminatory SAT and ACT minimum score cut-offs.”

Gabriela Lemus, Director of Policy and Legislation

“The hard work of Latino high school students is ignored by relying primarily on SAT and ACT scores. The net effect is that Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program categorically places another barrier to Latino access to higher education.”

Hispanic Coalition of Florida
Rosa Kasse, President

“We teach our children that hard work and a good education have value not only to the community, but also to individuals in better earning power. Higher education is in jeopardy of returning to a past when only the “affluent” could attend college. Discrimination in the awarding of college scholarships will take a serious toll on our country’s economy and the future of our minority youth.”