City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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By Heather Mac Donald, Victor Davis Hanson and Steven Malanga

The Immigration Solution.

By Heather Mac Donald

Are Cops Racist?

Eye on the News

Heather Mac Donald
The SAT Comes Full Circle
Proposed changes in the Big Test guarantee more racial special-pleading.
6 May 2002

Racial quota pushers are laying a big trap. For years, they have argued that the college admissions aptitude test, the SAT, discriminated against blacks and Hispanics. How else explain the average 200-point test score gap (on a 1,600-point scale) between black and Hispanic students, on the one hand, and Asians and whites, on the other? The quota crowd posited various explanations for the score gap, such as that the SAT contained “cultural bias” or favored kids who could afford test preparation courses. None of these explanations stood up to empirical analysis. They also argued that the SAT was worthless in predicting college readiness. This claim, too, didn’t stand up to the evidence.

Additional Comments:
National Review Online 7 May 2002

Despite its faulty arguments, the race industry easily persuaded colleges virtually to ignore low SAT grades when evaluating black and Hispanic students. Now, the race industry is about to claim its biggest victory of all—dismantling the SAT entirely. Under pressure from the University of California, which was forbidden from using race to override low test scores in 1995 and so was desperate to jettison the SAT, the overseers of the SAT are creating a new test that tries less to measure aptitudes like reasoning skills and more to measure knowledge of subject matter learned in school.

Doubtless SAT officials hope that now the anti-test crowd will finally shut up and allow meritocratic admissions to run their course. Fat chance. By switching to a content-based exam, colleges are inviting a whole new world of racial special pleading. “Minority high schools are underfunded, and thus cannot be expected to teach their students trigonometry,” we will soon start hearing. “The American history tested on the new SAT is not sufficiently multicultural and so cannot be learned by black and Hispanic students” (though Asian students don’t seem to be equally handicapped). “Schools in Hispanic neighborhoods do not have enough teachers with Hispanic surnames, so the students cannot master biology.” “A high proportion of students in this school get free lunches, so they couldn’t turn off the TV and read their Hemingway.” And undoubtedly most college admissions officers will be only too happy to honor such excuses and recreate the system of racial preferences built up around the old SAT.

Ironically, we have come full circle: it was elite private schools that fought to preserve content-based exams for college admissions before World War II, against the growing movement for aptitude testing. Educational reformers like James Conant argued that aptitude tests would allow bright students in less demanding public high schools to compete with less bright but better-prepared prep school students. The prep schools, for their part, predicted that discarding content-based exams would drag down academic standards by devaluing actual learning. They may have been right, but they lost the day. The aptitude test proponents claimed victory for meritocratic democracy against inherited privilege.

Expect the race industry to resurrect the same arguments against content testing as were used in the 1940s, but without proposing aptitude tests in its place. There is no reason to think that the test score gap will go away with a different test, since the explanation for it lies largely in a culture that devalues academic achievement. So after spending millions on developing a new test, the education profession will be left with its old options: shooting the messenger by blaming the test for differential academic outcomes, or finally telling the truth about the cultural changes needed to overcome lagging academic achievement. The sky will fall before the latter option comes to pass, so get ready for another decade of covert racial preferences and explicit excuse-making around the new SAT.

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