The Supreme Court yesterday upheld South Carolina's use of a test to hire and to pay its public school teachers even though the test results in the disqualification of blacks more often than whites and in blacks being paid less than whites.
Acting without hearing oral arguments, a 5-to-2 majority rejected appeals by the government and the National Education Association with an unsigned statement: "The judgment is affirmed."
The NEA brief said a lower court's ruling upholding the use of the tests will hasten the "disappearance of black educators in the South."
The judgment affirmed yesterday was that South Carolina did not violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by using National Teachers' Examination (NTE) scores to hire and classify teachers although the test's authors urged that it not be used for these purposes.
The effect of South Carolina's reliance on NTE scores was to disqualify black applicants in larger proportion than whites and to keep larger percentages of blacks than whites in lower teacher-pay classifications.
Under the 1976 version of the state's use of NTE scores, Solicitor General Wade H. McCree said in a Supreme Court brief, the judgment enables South Carolina to disqualify 83 per cent of black applicants for teacher certificates, but only 17.5 per cent of white applicants, to have a 95 per cent white pool of certified teachers and, through attrition, ultimately to replace nearly all of the present 3,000 black teachers with whites.
The decision was handed down last April by a special panel of three federal judges whose opinion was primarily concerned not with the results of South Carolina's reliance on the NTE, but with the state's intent.
The judges said they found no intent to discriminate. Instead, they said, the state had shown a "rational relationship to a legitimate employment objective," in that reliance on NTE scores provided "an incentive for improvement, so that teachers without adequate knowledge . . . will upgrade their capability."
In finding no intent to discriminate, the judges -- Clement F. Haynsworth Jr. and Donald Russell of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and District Judge Charles E. Simons Jr. --to a 1976 Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Washington vs. Davis .
Yesterday, Justice Byron R. White, joined by Justice William J. Brennan Jr., dissented, questioning whether the panel had correctly applied the 1976 ruling. Justices Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmun did not participate.
The 1976 ruling involved a test used by the District of Columbia to find out whether applicants to the Metropolitan Police Department possessed the minimum communications skills needed to understand the offerings in a training program. The test barred blacks more often than whites. But, the Supreme Court ruled, the test was not racially motivated and consequently could be used to determine the eligibility of police applicants to enter the program.
Yesterday White wrote that the panel went beyond a decision that validated a teaching test in terms of job requirements to validate a test -- the NTE -- related to something else: "the applicant's training."
The question isn't merely whether the panel applied correct legal standards to reach a correct conclusion, White wrote. The question is also whether the panel "was legally correct in holding that the NTE need not be validated against job performance and that the validation requirement was satisfied by a study which demonstrated only that a trained person could pass the test."
The case began in 1975 when the Justice Department, later joined by the NEA, filed a civil rights action.
One charge was that, alone among the states, South Carolina for 30 years had used NTE scores to fix salaries in order to perpetuate its tradition of one pay scale for white teachers and a lower one for blacks. Before the suit was filed, the Educational Testing Service, which designed the NTE, several times told the state that this was a misuse of the scores.
In addition, the government protested the state since 1969 had used the NTE to deny certification to otherwise qualified black applicants. Yet "nothing. . . Correlated NTE scores with successful teaching," the department said.
Solicitor General McCree told the Supreme Court that affirmance of the panel's decision "will have a serious precedential effect in other school systems now desegregating or recently desegregated" that have used NTE scores to disqualify black applicants and eliminate present black teachers. The NEA agreed, saying that "many more officials will turn to the NTE. . ."