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Suit Seeks To Ban Calif. Test for Prospective Teachers

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A coalition of minority educators in California filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to ban the state's basic-skills test for prospective teachers.

The test keeps many qualified minority teachers from getting jobs in the public schools, the suit alleges.

Prospective public school teachers, counselors, and administrators currently must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test, which tests reading, writing, and mathematics. Applicants must also pass the widely used National Teachers Examination, which tests their competency in a teaching subject.

The Association of Mexican-American Educators, the California Association for Asian-Pacific Bilingual Education, and 11 individual educators filed the class action in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. It names as defendants the state and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which administers the C-BEST.

The lawsuit claims that the test violates federal civil-rights law because it imposes requirements that are not sufficiently job related and have a discriminatory impact on prospective minority educators.

The suit cites figures showing that 80 percent of white applicants pass the C-BEST, while only 59 percent of Asian-Americans, 51 percent of Latinos, and 35 percent of African-Americans do so. Eighty-four percent of those who passed the test in 1990-91 were white.

The test is particularly difficult for those whose first language is not English, the suit's backers say.

"So far, the C-BEST's primary function has been to prevent us from hiring able bilingual and ethnic-minority teachers,'' said Pete Mesa, the superintendent of the Oakland school district.

Tom Rose, a spokesman for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said that validity studies are performed regularly on the test. Several years ago it was analyzed for racial and ethnic bias, he said, with only one question thrown out as a result.

"The public expects teachers to be role models of well-educated adults,'' Mr. Rose said. "They expect teachers to be able to read, write, and compute.''

The C-BEST, which has been required in California since 1983, is administered by the Educational Testing Service.

An estimated 30 states require some form of basic-skills or competency test for prospective teachers.

According to a 1988 report, some 38,000 minority candidates were denied teaching jobs in the public schools nationwide in the previous five years because they had failed to pass state-mandated competency tests. (See Education Week, Nov. 23, 1988.)

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