Trying to end the SATs

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Providence Journal:

Ever since 1996, when California voters passed Proposition 209, which barred, among other things, racial and ethnic preferences in admissions to the state's public colleges, the schools' administrators and faculty members have sought ways to evade the ban. The latest ploy, from Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California system, would be to end the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) as a requirement for admission to the system's campuses.

The tacit reason: There is a yawning gap between the average SAT scores of Asian and white applicants and those of black and Hispanic applicants. If your goal is to obscure the traces of racial and ethnic preferences, what more direct way than to eliminate the evidence altogether? In other words, simply stop requiring applicants to submit their SAT scores.

Naturally, Mr. Atkinson needs to pretend to be reasoning to his - predetermined - conclusion. So, for example, he says that the general SAT, which tries to indicate a student's aptitude for college-level work, is not very good at this. Oh? Try telling that to the many hundreds of schools, including those in the Ivy League, that use the SATs.

Instead, he seems to prefer requiring "only standardized tests that assess mastery of specific subject areas" - e.g., English, math, history, etc. Certainly there are plenty of debatable points to be made comparing the relative usefulness of the Educational Testing Service's SATs and its achievement tests. But the average performance gaps between Asians and whites and blacks and Hispanics, very large in academic aptitude as measured by the SATs, are at least as large in terms of knowledge levels as measured by achievement tests.

So Mr. Atkinson cannot really expect most independent observers to be naive enough to believe that substituting achievement tests for aptitude tests will, without the outright granting of now illicit racial and ethnic preferences, increase admissions among "underrepresented minorities." Most likely, the strategic ploy will be to begin by ending the SAT requirement and then conveniently "failing" to replace it with a requirement for achievement tests.

Evading the ban on racial preferences remains the long-term goal. Mr. Atkinson and his supporters should not be allowed to get away with it. The vast majority of Americans want a truly color-blind society.

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