Killing the Messenger: The Misuse of Disparate Impact Theory to Challenge High-Stakes Educational Tests

By Braceras, Jennifer C. | Vanderbilt Law Review, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Killing the Messenger: The Misuse of Disparate Impact Theory to Challenge High-Stakes Educational Tests


Braceras, Jennifer C., Vanderbilt Law Review


You don't solve the problem by assaulting the messenger...who brings bad news; you don't destroy the thermometer that tells you...a...fever exists; you don't cure malnutrition by throwing out the scales that identify...underweight babies.1

Educators and policymakers have long been concerned about low levels of American academic achievement.2 And with good reason. In recent studies by the U.S. Department of Education, twenty-three percent of American twelfth graders were unable to read at even the most "basic" level;3 more than one-third of all high school seniors lacked basic competency in mathematics;4 and fifty-seven percent of high school seniors lacked basic knowledge of American history.5 IMAGE FORMULA7

Perhaps even more troubling than the generally poor state of academic achievement among all American high school students is the persistent educational gap between black and Latino6 students, on the one hand, and white students, on the other.7 On a wide variety of measures (including test scores, grade point averages, and high school IMAGE FORMULA9and college graduation rates), black and Latino students consistently lag behind white students at the same educational level.8

In an attempt to address the problem of low academic achievement in general-and the minority achievement gap in particular-politicians9 and education reformers10 have pushed for uniform academic standards and increased accountability. The movement in favor of educational standards and regular academic assessments seeks to hold students, teachers, and administrators accountable by rewarding academic achievement and by exposing academic failure to public criticism as well as to corrective and remedial action. Reformers argue that only by testing all students, and by attaching consequences to the results of such tests, can we encourage teachers to focus on a uniform core curriculum, motivate student learning, and raise levels of student performance.11 Proponents of this new accountability also contend that any serious attempt to close the minority achievement gap must necessarily include a testing regime to provide the public and policymakers with comparative data and to provide incentives to raising achievement levels in even the most disadvantaged communities.12 IMAGE FORMULA11

Generally speaking, the new accountability takes the form of academic assessments that a student must pass in order to advance to the next grade level or receive a high school diploma. Typically, students who fail these assessments are provided remedial help and additional chances to pass the exam.13 Despite the good intentions behind such reform efforts, in the short term a disproportionately large number of African-American and Hispanic students have failed such tests, both on the first try and after multiple attempts.14

Because of the high failure rates of minority students on standardized academic assessments, some testing critics argue that requiring students to pass a mandatory exam in order to move to the next educational level will entrench current inequalities.15 Others go further, arguing that the tests are themselves "biased" against African-American and Latino students and that the tests, therefore, fail to measure accurately what students from these communities actually know.16 For one or both of these reasons, many groups that IMAGE FORMULA13purport to represent the interests of minorities and organizations that oppose standardized testing argue that tests which produce disproportionate racial or ethnic results are discriminatory.17

As a logical outgrowth of this view, a number of commentators and special interest groups have advocated using disparate impact theory-which has its roots in the law of employment discrimination18-to mount legal challenges to a variety of facially neutral testing regimes with disproportionate demographic outcomes. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Killing the Messenger: The Misuse of Disparate Impact Theory to Challenge High-Stakes Educational Tests
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.