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Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as Appeals Court To Review Calif. Teacher Test for Bias

Appeals Court To Review Calif. Teacher Test for Bias

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A federal appeals court has agreed to take another look at a long-running lawsuit claiming California's teacher-testing program is biased against minority candidates.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit announced last week that it would review the case that a three-judge appellate panel dismissed last year. The announcement gives advocates for more than 50,000 teacher applicants who failed the exam another chance for victory in the 8-year-old case.

Public Advocates Inc. argues that the California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, violates federal anti-discrimination laws because it is not an accurate way to measure a prospective teacher's skill in the classroom and has a negative impact on minority members.

The state already has tacitly admitted that the testing program in its original form was invalid, contends John T. Affeldt, a managing lawyer for Public Advocates, which represents the three groups suing the state. In 1995, an expert hired by the state said the math portions of the exam didn't measure the skills needed to be a teacher. The state then revised the exam, and the passing rates of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American test-takers improved, Mr. Affeldt said.

But the improvements haven't been sufficient for the San Francisco nonprofit law firm to drop its case, he added.

No Admission

While a lawyer representing the state acknowledged that the test did change, she said the adjustments were part of a regular review of the testing system to ensure that it continues to meet its purpose.

"It was not an admission that [the test as it existed before 1995] was not valid," said Nancy E. Rafuse, an Atlanta-based lawyer for the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing.

An 11-judge panel from the 9th Circuit in San Francisco will hear such arguments. The appeals court decided to review the smaller panel's ruling that CBEST was a valid test for determining whether teaching applicants were qualified to work in the state's classrooms.

The new appellate review, which hasn't been scheduled, will be the last step before a potential appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Public Advocates is representing the Association of Mexican American Educators, the Oakland Alliance of Black Educators, and the California Association for Asian Pacific Bilingual Education.

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 3

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