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Jewish World Review May 25, 1999 /10 Sivan, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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When higher-education is taken prisoner

(JWR) ---- (
CALL IT A CASE of multiple personality disorder, but the U.S. Department of Education appears to be of two minds when it comes to promoting sound education standards.

On the one hand, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley has loudly championed more accountability and tougher standards to improve K-12 education, including an end to the practice of 'social promotion,' in which teachers promote students to the next grade even if they haven't mastered the work at their current level. Now, however, Riley seems to be having second thoughts about 'social promotion,' at least when it comes to access to higher education.

Last week, Riley weighed in on a controversial set of guidelines being promoted by the Office for Civil Rights in his department that would severely restrict colleges and universities from using standardized test scores to select students for admission or financial aid. At issue are the SAT and ACT tests used by most colleges to help rank applicants. While no school relies entirely on test scores to determine whom to admit, the most competitive schools give considerable weight to high scores, especially during an era of grade inflation when so many students graduate with a perfect 4.0 or 'A' record.

But the problem is, minority students -- on average -- perform less well than whites on standardized tests. The mean score for black students who take the SAT is about 200 points lower (out of a possible 1600) than for whites. OCR's new guidelines -- still in the drafting stage -- presume that any test that produces lower average scores among minorities than whites is suspect. "The use of any educational test that has a significant disparate impact on members of any particular race, national origin or sex is discriminatory," says OCR. Schools that run afoul of OCR's rules could face a cut-off of all federal funds.

Riley's solution is to develop "new and creative ways to enlarge the pool of eligible minority applicants," by going beyond what he called "the traditional factors" of test scores and grades. This sounds an awfully lot like 'social promotion,' only this time it's not from, say, fifth to sixth grade but from high school to college.

Blacks and Hispanics, on average, perform less well than whites or Asians on the SAT or ACT because they've mastered fewer of the skills tested in these exams. In order to do reasonably well on the math section of either test, a student must know basic arithmetic, plus algebra and geometry. He must also be able to decipher a word problem, set up an equation and remember simple mathematical formulas.

To perform well on the verbal section of the tests, a student must be able to comprehend what he reads, define words, and have a good grasp of syntax and grammar. Sadly, too few blacks and Hispanics can meet these requirements. Should they be admitted to colleges and universities anyway? OCR thinks so, but if universities cave in to these demands it will further weaken American higher education and won't serve the interests of the minority students, either.

It makes little sense to promote a child from third to fourth grade if he cannot read or hasn't mastered simple addition and subtraction, and learned how to multiply single digits. Riley seems to understand this and, commendably, has urged schools to retain elementary and secondary students in grade with extra tutorial or summer schoolwork until they learn the necessary skills to earn promotion. But the same principle applies to higher education. If black and Hispanic students can't satisfy the requirement of college placement tests, the answer isn't to admit them anyway, but rather to give them the remediation they need.

If Riley really wanted to improve the performance of minority college applicants, he'd direct his Office for Civil Rights to cease and desist from its destructive efforts to ban standardized testing. After all, eliminating the test may destroy the evidence that minorities are getting a second-rate education, but it won't change the facts.


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04/27/99: Beyond 'Why?'
04/23/99: Pick your ('protected-class' poison)
04/14/99: Why we’re a nation of procrastinators
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03/30/99: Are euthanasia advocates truly compassionate or do they merely fear being burdens themselves?
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03/16/99: How to keep anti-immigrant sentiments low
03/11/99: Why Bush is the GOP front-runner
03/03/99: If only these were normal times
02/24/99: Unsettling news about ‘feminism’ --- for the NOW gang
02/18/99: 50 years and trillions of dollars up in smoke --- literally?
02/11/99: Why Dems have the most to fear
02/02/99: Look who supports a people-of-color tax
01/26/99: When sports are truly a diversion
01/20/99: Ken Starr as Mark Fuhrman?
01/12/99: Leave Monica out of it
01/05/99: Forget Danny Williams, what about Bubba’s trade and campaign abuses!?
12/29/98: Ya never know
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12/08/98: Why the House must make sure Bubba gets his due punishment
12/02/98: Remember when libraries were for expanding the mind!?
11/26/98: When Thanksgiving means more than commercialism
11/17/98: To Ken S. --- if you'll only listen
11/10/98: What did you expect?
11/04/98: Shame on those who don't vote!
10/27/98: It's spreading!
10/20/98: It ain't over yet
10/15/98: Mourning motherhood
9/23/98: Sosa and the race card
9/23/98: Believable and truthful are two different things
9/16/98: Time for a new Amendment!
9/08/98: When silence is truly golden
8/25/98: Bears and blunders
8/25/98: Only consistency about Prez's anti-terrorism policy: its inconsistency
8/18/98: Is our 'broken-compass' beyond fixing?
8/11/98: Reno's risk
8/04/98: When Truth is of the highest odor
7/28/98: No way to protect ourselvesagainst a nut's wrath
7/22/98: These 'choice' advocates are being demonzied ... by the Left.
7/15/98: Will 'neonaticide' become the new buzzword?
7/07/98: Urge to mega-merge, stopped in time
6/30/98: Why take responsibility if
somebody else will pay?
6/23/98: Blinded by the red, or is it the green?
6/17/98: Flotsam in the wake of romance
6/10/98: We have a ways to go in the bilingual war
6/3/98: Tyson's triumph over tragedy
5/28/98: Why Univision's Perenchio is out to hurt his fellow Hispanics
5/20/98: Sometimes Buba actually tells the truth ... as he sees it
5/12/98: Chill-out on the chihuahua and ... Seinfeld
5/8/98: The revolution is just about over
4/28/98: Let's face it: both parties are full of hypocrites
4/21/98: Legislating equality
4/14/98: One down, many to go
4/7/98: Mexican mayhem?
3/31/98: Of death and details
3/25/98: Americans are unaware of NATO expansion
3/18/98: Intellectual-ghettoes in the name of diversity
3/11/98: Be careful what you wish for ...
3/4/98: The Press' Learning-disability
2/25/98: 50 States Are Enough!
2/18/98: Casey at the Mat
2/11/98: The legal profession's Final Solution
2/4/98: Faith and the movies
1/28/98: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Politics Vs. Principle
1/21/98: Movement on the Abortion Front
1/14/98: Clones, Courts, and Contradictions
1/7/98: Child custody or child endangerment?
12/31/97: Jerry Seinfeld, All-American
12/24/97: Affirmative alternatives: New initiatives for equal opportunity are out there
12/17/97: Opening a window of opportunity (a way out of bilingual education for California's Hispanic kids)

©1999, Creators Syndicate