January 2000

CBEST Exam for Teachers Not Unconstitutional

Titles VI and VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act do not apply to administration of the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) for teachers, ruled the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

In 1983, the California Legislature amended the Education Code to require all teachers licensed in California to demonstrate basic skills in the English language as measured by a basic proficiency test. A class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of minority educators who wanted to prohibit the use of CBEST. Plaintiffs claimed that the test had a disproportionate adverse impact on racial minorities, and the State of California failed to properly validate the test.

Title VII Does Not Apply

The 9th Circuit ruled that the CBEST exam was not subject to Title VII because it is a licensing exam. Title VII does not apply to governmental licensing activities that require public school teachers to be certificated employees. Courts have found that a valid licensing exam is exempt from liability under Title VII.

Only the state Legislature possesses the constitutional authority to regulate public school teacher hiring on a statewide basis by imposing a credentialing requirement like CBEST. However, the State is not subject to Title VII in this case because it is not a direct employer, concluded the court. The case was remanded to the District Court for an award of costs to the State as prevailing party.

A dissenting opinion by Judge Boochever said, "As a result of today's decision, California is no longer bound to follow Title VII's mandate when imposing its statewide hiring requirements for public school teachers, however, invidious, discriminatory, or harmful those requirements may be.... I believe that the majority has diminished the protections of Title VII for public school teachers beyond what Congress intended."

Association of Mexican-American Educators v. State of California (1999)

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