Issue: Education
Topic: Teacher Quality
Status: Inactive
Project Date: January 1, 1992

Background

On October 30, 2000, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the California Basic Educational Skills Test “CBEST,” as a valid employment exam. This 6-5 decision is a disappointing turn of events for California’s students and teachers. However, the panel did reverse two negative 1999 appellate decisions. The 11-judge panel concluded that the State, although not a direct employer of school teachers, can still be held liable under Title VII when it imposes tests or other obstacles restricting employment. In addition, the 11-judge panel denied the State’s request for litigation costs. This decision is important because it allows trial judges to deny costs to victorious defendants, thereby preserving the ability of underrepresented communities to bring complex, civil rights lawsuits.
In a vigorous dissent of the October 30, 2000, decision, Judge Stephen Reinhardt agreed with Public Advocates that the State had never shown that the reading, writing, and math skills on the CBEST were related to the diverse teaching, counseling, and administrative jobs for which the test was being used, nor did the CBEST accurately measure the skills being tested.
The lawsuit was filed in 1992 on behalf of all Latino, African American, and Asian American educators barred from public school certificated employment by CBEST. At that time, whites passed the test at the rate of 80%, while African American, Latino, and Asian passage rates were 37%, 49%, and 53% respectively. Public Advocates’ clients claimed that the use of the CBEST as an employment test was in violation of Title VI and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Plaintiffs sought to modify the CBEST to increase its job relevance and to reduce its unlawful discriminatory impact. Today, over 60 percent of California’s public school students are ethnic minorities, and nearly a third of all students speak a primary language other than English, while the teaching force remains 80% white and largely monolingual.

Despite the recent, disappointing decision, in 1995, the State had substantially modified the CBEST by eliminating many irrelevant questions and increasing the time allowed for the test. These modifications were made in response to this lawsuit. Thousands of educators have benefited as a result of these changes.

The Plaintiffs in this suit are three organizations dedicated to equal educational opportunity for minority and low-income children, the Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE), the California Association for Asian Pacific Bilingual Education (CAFABE), the Oakland Alliance of Black Educators (OABE), eight individual Latino, African American, and Asian American|educators.

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