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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post


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PostWatch
 

Wednesday, June 26, 2002
 
1:19 PM

Michael Fletcher writes about an "overhaul" of the SAT test, casting it as an attempt to measure what students are actually taught, an alarming prospect given what is taught these days. The lede:

Trustees of the College Board are scheduled to vote tomorrow on a proposal to revamp the SAT I, a decision that would launch what could be the most significant overhaul in the 76-year history of the nation's most widely used college admissions exam. The changes, which observers expect to win approval, would continue the SAT's evolution from a test that measures students' aptitude to one that comes closer to assessing how well they learned the material taught in high school....

The proposed changes come more than a year after Richard C. Atkinson, president of the University of California system, the test's biggest customer, called for the university's governing board to drop the exam. Atkinson said the test distorts the college admissions process by focusing on skills, such as word analogies, that are not taught in school. He said that the university could get a better read on prospective students by requiring them to take several SAT II subject-area tests in combination with a test based on what California students are taught in high school.

Fletcher briefly mentions concerns over the fact that black students and other minorities score lower on these tests, but ostantatiously ignores the chief reason behind Atkinson's move. As NRO's Stanley Kurtz has written:

Last year, Richard Atkinson, president of the nation's largest university system, the University of California, proposed dumping the SAT test. Atkinson justified the projected move with the claim that the SAT, as a measure of aptitude rather than achievement, was unfair to those who could maximize their potential through hard work in high school and college. But Atkinson's move was a transparent attempt to circumvent California's Proposition 209, which outlawed race preferences in admission to California's public colleges.

Kurtz adds that changing the SAT into an achievement test is redundant and will hurt smart kids educated in bad schools:

College admissions offices already have measures of student achievement to work with -- grades, and a wide range of achievement tests. Colleges do, and should, take these measures of achievement into account. The point of the SAT is to add something new and important to the mix -- a test of general aptitude. An aptitude test actually works in favor of students who come from lesser high schools but have the potential to achieve at higher levels in college. By destroying the SAT as a measure of aptitude, all that is accomplished is the suppression of a real and significant dimension of difference among students. As usual, in other words, the truth is being sacrificed to political correctness.

It's a shame, because as Fletcher observes in his conservative-free story, aptitude tests were earlier seen as a way to level the playing field:

Not long after the SAT was first administered in 1926, it was touted as a way to bring a measure of objectivity to the college admissions process and help identify capable college students across class lines. In practice, that often has not been the case: Student performance on the test corresponds with family income and parental education levels; African American and Latino teenagers score lower than other ethnic groups.

So if some groups score less well, something is amiss with the test--not the groups.

"[We are] gravely concerned that the proposals before you fail to address the SAT's major flaws -- its weak predictive validity, demonstrable gender and ethnic biases, susceptibility to coaching and harmful impact on school curriculum," the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), a Cambridge, Mass., group that opposes high-stakes tests, wrote in a letter to the College Board.

That's an interesting way to describe FairTest, whose position on the bias scale can be guessed since the Post doesn't locate it. In other words, head left. FairTest describes itself thus:

We place special emphasis on eliminating the racial, class, gender, and cultural barriers to equal opportunity posed by standardized tests, and preventing their damage to the quality of education.

Unfortunately, African American and Latino teenagers generally do less well in school, across all income groups. The "race gap," according to NRO writer Melissa Seckora, is:

Persistent and so far intractable. Not, as [writer Richard] Rothstein implies in his otherwise-honest [Aug. 30, 2001 NYT] piece, a case of "disadvantaged minority students" versus "middle-class whites." The differences appear when figures are controlled for family income and family educational level. Whites outscore blacks. Hispanics are intermediate between whites and blacks. East Asians outscore whites. Ashkenazi Jews outscore everybody. Get used to it.

We don't want to get used to that, obviously, but the disparities are there and not being invented by the SAT. At least that's the conservative position, not that it exists.



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