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The American Civil Liberties Union, acting on behalf of a watchdog group on standardized testing, last week filed a federal civil-rights complaint charging bias against girls in the examination used to award about $25 million annually in National Merit Scholarships.

The complaint against the Educational Testing Service and the College Board, filed with the U.S. Education Department's civil-rights office, alleges violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. It charges that the sole reliance on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test to determine eligibility denies girls an equal opportunity to receive the college scholarships. The College Board co-sponsors the test, and the E.T.S. administers it.

Each year, about 60 percent of the National Merit semifinalists and finalists are boys, because male test-takers tend to score higher on both the verbal and math portions of the P.S.A.T., according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, the group that spurred the complaint.

But boys make up just 45 percent of those who take the test and tend to get lower grades in school than girls do, the group noted.

Anne Buckley, a College Board spokeswoman, said there is no gender bias in either the previous or the newly revised version of the test. Score differentials between boys and girls, she said, reflect different academic preparation, such as girls taking fewer high school math courses.

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