Florida "Rising Junior" Test Biased

University Testing

Since 1983, students in Florida's public colleges have been required to pass the College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST) in order to earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree or move from sophomore to junior status at a four-year school. Each year, severely disproportionate numbers of minority students do not meet CLAST standards and are denied educational opportunities. At the same time, a growing number of critics question the exam's relevance.


The CLAST is a five-hour exam comprised of two multiple-choice sections -- Mathematics and English Language Skills and Reading -- plus a timed essay. As with many standardized tests, no points are deducted for wrong answers on the CLAST, so guessing may affect scores as much as actual knowledge.


The state says the aim of the test is to measure the achievement of essential academic skills of college students, and to determine whether students...have achieved the level of performance required for an AA degree or upper division status. The CLAST was not designed, Florida says, to predict students future performance in school. Hence, the criterion-related (i.e., predictive) validity is not relevant. However, the CLAST's current use is based on the prediction that those who do not meet the cut-scores will be unable to do third and fourth year college work. Experts criticize this and other aspects of the exam.


Miami-Dade Community College President Robert McCabe has studied the CLAST for several years. He questions why, if CLAST officials claim predictive validity is not important, the test is used as a prerequisite for admission to the state universities upper divisions. He further notes that the CLAST administration has consistently refused to study whether there is any correlation between test scores and upper division university performance. Critics more broadly argue that CLAST is a bad test because its content is often not essential for college students, no information is provided on how to improve scores, and passing score levels were not determined by any established psychometric means.


The passing score on the CLAST has been raised four times in the past 13 years by government-appointed panels, despite college educators recommendations. In 1987, for example, a state panel asked the 37 Florida colleges and universities to recommend whether a proposed cut-score increase should take effect. The collective institutional judgement was overwhelmingly against the [new] standards, McCabe reports. For instance, 26 schools were against raising the Essay passing score while only 7 favored the change. The minimum score requirement was increased anyway.


In 1993-94, 65% of White examinees passed the CLAST, versus 30% of Black (non-Hispanic), 40% of Hispanic, 46% of Asian/Pacific Islander, and 57% of American Indian/Alaskan Native examinees. Fifty-eight percent of males passed, versus 56% of females (see table).


Nearly 32,000 students who would have received AA degrees between 1984 and 1991 were denied diplomas by the CLAST requirement. At one community college where Black enrollment increased by 67% between 84 and 91, the annual number of Black graduates actually decreased. Hispanic enrollment rose by 41.5%, but produced only 1% more graduates. Figures like these are the reason CLAST is accused of being a biased gatekeeper, rather than a meaningful measure.


Using a single standardized test for such high stakes decisions as college graduation or progression is dangerous and unfair. Students accepted to a four-year institution who maitain grades that keep them there, or who complete the two years of work required for an AA, should not be judged by a one-time, high-pressure test that so clearly favors non-minorities.