Rhode Island ACLU Defeats Employment Testing Requirement

Teacher & Employment Testing

Early this spring, Steven Brown, Executive Director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), received a mailing from the State Department of Health containing drafts of new regulations it was about to promulgate. One which particularly caught his attention proposed requiring foreign pharmacy school graduates to attain a specific score on the Test of Spoken English, manufactured by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), in order to work in Rhode Island.


Brown was particularly aware of potential bias and other problems in the use of standardized exams because he had coordinated a successful drive to repeal a Rhode Island regulation that entry-level teachers meet a cut-off score on ETS's National Teachers Exam (see Examiner, Fall 1991). Since that campaign he had become an assessment reform advocate, often working with FairTest to monitor and oppose unnecessary new testing requirements throughout the state.


Based on this experience, and with modest help from FairTest which tracked down ETS research documents, Brown submitted oral and written testimony opposing the plan to test foreign pharmacists. Working with a board member who taught measurement issues at a state college, the Rhode Island ACLU demonstrated that since foreign pharmacists already had to take ETS's Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which the company's manuals said correlated highly with TSE scores, the proposed requirement was completely unnecessary.


Brown also saw the issue in a larger context: "In the current political climate, we wondered why foreign-born pharmacists were being singled out. There are a lot of native Rhode Islanders who have trouble speaking the English language, but they were not facing a new testing requirement." As a result of this advocacy, the Rhode Island Department of Health deleted the section of the proposed regulation containing the TSE requirement. Reflecting on another testing reform success Brown concluded, "Without our oversight, this pointless, costly requirement would certainly have gone into effect."


Once again, Steve Brown and the Rhode Island ACLU have shown the impact alert and aggressive activists can have in keeping the testing explosion under control.