Discrimination Claimed in Texas Exit-Exam Lawsuit

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In the latest challenge to the use of standardized tests as gatekeepers to high school graduation, a Hispanic advocacy group last week sued Texas over what it claims is the state's "invalid, discriminatory" exit test.

The suit filed Oct. 14 in U.S. District Court in San Antonio by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund asks the court to stop the use of the high school graduation test as a requirement for earning a diploma.

Albert H. Kauffman, the lawyer representing seven minority students who failed the test, said the test's discriminatory effects are clear. Four of the students would have graduated this past spring, and one in 1993. The suit does not specify when the others were on track to graduate.

"No matter how you look at the testing, the passage rates of African-Americans and Latinos is significantly below that of whites," Mr. Kauffman said last week. That, in turn, means there are disproportionately fewer high school graduates among those groups, according to the suit.

And the test, part of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, denies educational and economic opportunities to students "without sufficient proof that use of the tests will enhance the education or life opportunities of students," the suit contends.

Great Expectations

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Moses denied last week that the TAAS exit test discriminates against minority students.

"We look forward to presenting extensive data to a court and to the public that proves the state's testing system and accountability system are free of bias," Mr. Moses said in a statement. "We expect great things of all our students," he said. "We cannot lower our expectations and our standards because of the ethnicity of a child."

Just this year, a separate challenge to the Texas test, lodged with the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights, was rejected. The OCR decided the complaint by the Texas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did not merit a finding of bias.

In a lengthy 1994 investigation of possible racial discrimination in Ohio's exit test, the OCR reached an agreement that let the test stand. The complaint in Ohio centered on whether high school students in every district had received the instruction necessary, or so-called opportunity to learn, to pass the test. Ohio agreed to make sure that students were prepared for the test. ("No Racial Bias Found in Ohio's School Exit Test," Oct. 12, 1994.)

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