Test Score Bias Unexamined in Hopwood Case

Status: 
Archived
Subject: 
University Testing

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hopwood v. Texas not to review a federal appeals court ruling barring the University of Texas Law School from pursuing affirmative action in its admissions policies has led many other educational institutions to reevaluate their own selection processes. Proposals have been filed in several state legislatures and lawsuits threatened in a number of other jurisdictions to repeal applicant evaluation procedures based on anything other than quantitative factors.

 

Many of these initiatives reflect the false "test scores equal merit" philosophy that has become a mantra for affirmative action opponents (see Examiner, Fall/Winter 1995-96). But the courts never considered expert testimony that heavy reliance on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores in the "Texas Index" used as an initial applicant screen actually biased the process against African Americans.

 

Instead, the case turned on the University's apparent use of different "Texas Index" cut-off scores to evaluate Caucasians, Latinos and African Americans. No court ever examined the index itself, a formula which the Law School estimated to be equivalent to placing between 55% and 65% of the selection weight on LSAT scores and 35% to 45% on undergraduate grade point average.

 

In fact, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund had attempted to intervene in the Hopwood case on several occasions as it moved through the judicial process to present precisely such an analysis done by Emory University Psychology Professor Martin Shapiro. In a declaration that was never admitted into evidence, Shapiro concluded "(1) that the regression analysis results obtained by the Law School Admissions Services conclusively demonstrate that the selection criteria which the (Texas) Law School has used to evaluate African American applicants were invalid, (2) that the Texas Index should not have been used as an initial sorting criterion for African American applicants, but (3) that the practice of reducing the numerical values of the Texas Index required of African American applicants had, at least some, ameliorative effect upon the invalid application of the Texas Index."

 

Thus the real cause of bias, according to Prof. Shapiro, was the use of test scores, not the attempt to compensate for them. This is a message that needs to be considered by institutions around the country as they reevaluate how to maintain diverse student bodies while simultaneously upholding high academic standards. In the wake of Hopwood, more colleges and graduate schools should consider test-score optional policies as the solution to this controversy.