U.S. Court Says Awards Based On S.A.T.'s Are Unfair to Girls
By WILLIAM GLABERSONPublished: February 04, 1989
New York State's method of awarding merit scholarships to high school students on the basis of their scores on Scholastic Aptitude Testsdiscriminates against girls, a Federal judge in Manhattan ruled yesterday. He ordered the state to change its selection process.In a preliminary ruling, Federal Judge John M. Walker said the state's exclusive use of S.A.T. scores to award Empire and RegentsScholarships violated the equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution.''After a careful review of the evidence,'' Judge Walker said, ''this court concludes that S.A.T. scores capture a student's academic achievementno more than a student's yearbook photograph captures the full range of her experiences in high school.''For reasons that experts have not fully explained, boys consistently outscore girls on the widely used tests, and the performance gap betweenthe two sexes has been growing every year. Tests Widely CriticizedLawyers said the ruling is the first in the country to declare that standardized achievement tests, which have been widely criticized,discriminate against any group.The tests, usually taken by students in their junior year in high school, have become a ubiquitous feature of American life and are widely usedin helping to determine admission to colleges and graduate schools. They are used exclusively to set minimum standards at hundreds of colleges nationwide, according to critics of the tests. But it was not clear yesterday what effect, if any, the ruling would have on the many morecolleges that use the tests only as part of their admissions process. More Challenges ExpectedCritics of the testing companies said they thought the decision would open the door to a wide variety of attacks on the tests. Robert A.Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said the decision was an important victory for the critics that would encourage challenges to many current uses of standardized tests.Isabelle Katz Pinzler, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project and the lead attorney for the case, said herorganization would now consider legal challenges to other uses of the tests.''It's really a very important, precedent-setting case,'' she told The Associated Press. ''It's really not fair to anybody to give a scholarship basedon a three-hour test given on a Saturday afternoon rather than four years of high school.''Mr. Schaeffer said the decision ''opens the door to race- and sex-bias challenges to other programs across the country which similarly misusetest results.''In Albany, State Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol said, ''I have not yet seen the injunction, so it's difficult to be precise about itsimplications.''Martin C. Barell, the Chancellor of the Board of Regents, said late yesterday: ''I wouldn't care to comment until I see the ruling.'' He also saidit was ''much too premature'' to decide on an appeal.New York is one of two states that rely exclusively on the S.A.T. to determine eligibility for their state-scholarship programs. The other isMassachusetts. Most other states combine several factors, including S.A.T. scores and high-school grades.The lawsuit was filed last October by two organizations, the Girls Clubs of America and the National Organization for Women, and by 10 New York high school girls.It challenged the State Education Department's plan to revert to using only the S.A.T. to determine eligibility for the state scholarships. For 10 years until last year, that was the sole criterion in New York.Two years ago, aware of the problems with the S.A.T. test, New York devised a plan to use high school grades in tandem with the test toaward the scholarships. But it abandoned that plan in October and went back to using only the S.A.T.'s when state officials determined thatschools were inflating students' grades in hopes of having more scholarship winners.In his decision yesterday, Judge Walker said New York could go back to the system it used last year or develop other ways to combat theunfairness to girls.Mr. Sobol said that correlating grades from one school district to another was ''very chancy and not really satisfactory.'' He said the EducationDepartment had advocated a return to state exams that measure what a student has learned, rather than the student's ability to do work.