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California Court Mulls Release of Law Test Data

, The Associated Press

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — For years, researcher Richard Sander has been fighting to obtain sensitive data collected by the administrator of California's bar exam as he studies the effects of affirmative action policies on the performance of minority law students.

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court will rule on the matter after the state bar challenged an appeals court order to turn over the data to Sander.

The bar says disclosing the data will violate the promise of confidentiality made to all test takers.

Sander is a University of California, Los Angeles law professor who wants information on race, attendance and grades at law schools, test scores and the rate at which exam takers passed the test.

Sander says he wants the data to test his theory that minority students are actually hurt by affirmative action admissions policies at universities.

Sander posits that minorities — blacks in particular — admitted to elite schools because of racial preference polices do more poorly than if they had attended less-rigorous universities. He created a firestorm when he published his theory in the Stanford Law Review in 2004 and critics attacked his conclusions for several reasons.

Chiefly, they complained that Sander's conclusions dramatically understated the positive effects of affirmative action, arguing that there would be far fewer black attorneys if the admissions policy were scrapped.

Others argued that Sander's theory is based on inadequate statistics. That's one of the reasons he wants access to state bar records. About 14,000 applicants take the test each year in in February and July in California.

The state bar denied Sander's public records act request in 2008, arguing that it was part of the judicial branch and not a public agency subject to California's records law. Sander filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court seeking the data and was joined by the California First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit organization.

The trial judge ruled in favor of the state bar, but the California Court of Appeal reversed that decision in 2011.

Since the state Supreme Court has agreed to accept the case, many California newspapers have joined with politically conservative nonprofits such as the Pacific Legal Foundation in urging release of the data.

Several minority and lawyer groups have sided with the state bar examiners' position that the data should remain confidential.

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