The headline in the Boston Globe magazine read Civil Rights groups urge state to change ‘discriminatory’ vocational school admissions policies to lottery. I had to read it. I was a Civil Rights Specialist with the Massachusetts Department of Education 1978-1980. I had a role in reviewing the admissions policies for the public regional vocational-technical high schools.
At the time, many of the VocTechs had a set of hoops students had to go thru to get accepted. One was a Differential Aptitude Test (DAT). At the time, the test had separate scoring for males and females. It had been normed by having adults in a variety fields take the test and then creating profiles for them. It was never designed to be a screening test. That it had separate norms made its use questionable. That it was never designed to predict success in a field made its use questionable. That it had been normed on adults rather than junior high and senior high school students made its use questionable. As a result we said the DAT could not use as part of the admission screening process for VocTechs.
The Massachusetts Department of Education had a role then, in working to ensure that VocTech admissions were free of bias. We worked with those programs to ensure that all programs were open without regard to student’s race, sex, color, or national origin. The department was also working to ensure that students with IEPs were not arbitrarily excluded from admission.
At the time I was with the Department Greg Anrig was the Commissioner, and he wanted the Department to monitor LEA compliance. That approach didn’t sit well with the Superintendents who were on having to ensure that their programs were in compliance with state and federal legislation. The next Commissioner had been a Superintendent and was determined to take the Department out of the role of compliance monitor.
I believe that empowered Superintendents and significantly undermined the role of the Department. And, looking at the Globe report, I’d say the Dept of Education has continued to avoid protecting students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners.