As the Supreme Court weighed this spring whether the city of New Haven was wrong in throwing out a 2003 Fire Department promotion exam because the scores of black firefighters were much lower than the scores of white firefighters, many wondered if its eventual verdict would impact the realm of higher education. Could a decision regarding the multiple-choice firefighters’ exam be applied to other standardized, multiple-choice exams, like the SAT?
Now that the Court has ruled, the answer, according to experts, appears to be no.
While the SAT, like the firefighters’ promotion exam, has been found to reflect higher scores among whites — a fact obliquely referenced by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion, which said the city was indeed wrong in throwing out the test — the SAT is not an exam relating to employment and therefore would not be affected by the Court’s decision.
“The decision is relatively narrow in that it deals only with employment testing under Title VII under the Civil Rights Act. It should not have any impact on higher education or K-12 testing,” wrote Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, in an article in Diverse magazine, which focuses on issues related to minorities in higher education.
While the Supreme Court has weighed in on cases related to college admissions — consider the recent Grutter v. Bollinger verdict, which allowed for the consideration of minority status in admission decisions — the Ricci v. DeStefano verdict belongs to the sphere of employment, not higher education.
Colleges should not see the decision as a reason to change any policies, Ada Meloy, the general counsel for the American Council on Education (of which Yale is a member), told Inside Higher Ed.
“I don’t think there are strategies that are widely used in higher education that are threatened by this decision,” she said, noting that this was particularly true in regard to diversification of faculty.
President Barack Obama, for his part, said an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he was glad the Ricci decision did not impact the use of affirmative action in the college admissions process. While he said affirmative action has not always been a strong “force for racial progress,” Obama noted that many critics of the policy overstate its negative consequences.
“It hasn’t been as bad on white students seeking admissions or seeking a job as its critics have said,” he said.