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2nd Class Action Filed Against California Teacher Test

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A second legal challenge has been mounted against the test that California uses to screen applicants for teaching credentials.

In a class action filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last month, an African-American teacher argues that the California Basic Educational Skills Test is unconstitutional because it discriminates against minorities and is not relevant to the jobs for which candidates are being screened.

Fifteen teachers and several groups representing minority educators filed a similar action last fall in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. (See Education Week, Sept. 30, 1992.)

Both lawsuits note that members of minority groups fail the CBEST at a disproportionately high rate. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedents, employment tests that have a racially disproportionate impact are permissible only if they are valid and were not adopted with discriminatory intent.

In the most recently filed suit, Venetta L. Greene alleges that she was unfairly denied a job as an English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1984 because she failed the mathematics section of the CBEST. Although she passed the section a year later and has been employed since then, Ms. Greene is seeking compensatory damages for wages lost during her year of unemployment and is also asking the court to bar the state from using the exam.

"The test is not job-related, therefore it should not be used as a qualifier to get a teaching credential or to determine employment in the public schools system,'' said Leo J. Terrell, Ms. Greene's lawyer.

The math section of the exam has "not a thing to do with her competency'' as an English teacher, he said. "If Albert Einstein did not know who was the 14th President of the United States, would we preclude him from teaching chemistry?''

Exam Is Defended

Since the CBEST was implemented in 1983, 80 percent of whites have passed it, compared with only 59 percent of Asian-Americans, 51 percent of Hispanics, and 35 percent of African-Americans, according to Ms. Green's suit.

Officials of the Los Angeles schools and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing both defended the exam in interviews last week.

"The fact of the matter is that the legislature did not intend this test to measure teaching ability,'' said David Wright, the director of the credentialing commission's professional-services division. "The purpose of the original law was to assess more basic academic skills that we assume teachers acquire before they begin pedagogy studies and their supervised teaching in the schools.''

The Los Angeles schools require prospective teachers to pass a subject-matter test in addition to passing the CBEST, said Irene Yamahara, the district's associate superintendent for personnel.

Currently, 21 states require prospective teachers to pass a general-skills test as a prerequisite for employment, and 28 states require that they pass a subject-matter competency exam, according to Melodye Bush, an information specialist at the Education Commission of the States.

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