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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Civil Rights and Writing Assessment: Using the Disparate Impact Approach as a Fairness Methodology to Evaluate Social Impact

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has served as an influential legal framework for addressing intentional (disparate treatment) and unintentional (disparate impact) discrimination. While philosophical and methodological discussions of Title VI and Title VII are well articulated in the legal scholarship, the disparate impact approach--a method for evaluating unintended racialized differences in outcomes resulting from facially neutral policies or practices--remains an underutilized conceptual and methodological framework in assessment literature. In this article, we argue that the burden-shifting heuristic used by entities such as the Office for Civil Rights to redress disparate impact is a valuable approach in evaluating fairness of writing assessment practices. In demonstrating an application of the burden-shifting approach at one university writing program, we discuss the value of the proposed integrative framework and point to remaining questions regarding sampling concerns--group identification, group stability, and intersectionality.

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