Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Before Standardized Testing

 

A bit more than a week ago, the regents of the University of California voted unanimously to approve Janet Napolitano’s proposal that the UC system cease using the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the ACT to help their admissions departments choose from among their applicants those most apt to profit from the instruction the universities in the system offer. This they did in the face of a UC Faculty Senate study confirming the utility of these standardized tests for that purpose and demonstrating that the poor showing of African-American and Hispanic high school students on these examinations had little, if anything, to do with test bias and much to do with poor high school preparation.

In theory, UC will now design its own test for applicants, but this can hardly be made to produce the results desired – for it will surely be unavailable to students from out of state, and no examination testing the candidates’ intelligence and preparation is likely to produce results dramatically different from what one secures via the SAT and ACT, which do an excellent job of predicting future academic success. In practice, all of this is obfuscation: for, as I argued on 18 May in “The Value of Standardized Testing,” the real aim of those who want to eliminate standardized testing or make it optional is to make it possible for their schools to practice that species of systematic racial discrimination that passes under the euphemism “affirmative action” without anyone being able to prove that this is what they are doing.

What, you might ask, did universities do before the SAT and ACT existed? Some had their own exams – which gave great advantage to those who could travel to the campus to take it. Others emphasized “character” – which, though in principle admirable, tended in practice to mean that to be successful an applicant had to belong to the appropriate social class. In much of the Ivy League, this meant that Catholics, Jews, and the like had no need to bother applying. As discovery in a recent court case against Harvard revealed, this is how that university excludes Asian-American applicants today.

Public universities sometimes opted for another – far more rational expedient – for separating the sheep from the goats, and the University of California was in their number. As one individual observed in a letter published in The Wall Street Journal,

I was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley in 1952. At that time there were no tests to get into the university. Any California student who graduated from his or her high school with a B or better average was eligible to attend.

At the freshman orientation the president of the university invited 100 students at a time to his residence on campus. He had everyone hold hands. He said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. All of you are the best of your high schools, but only one of you will be here next semester.” And that was how the class was selected. Most of the one-third of the students who survived the freshman cut remained at Cal for four years.

I quote this bit of correspondence because the same thing was still done at the University of Oklahoma when I graduated from high school in Oklahoma City in 1967. There was something called the University College. Freshmen had to successfully pass through it before they could enroll as sophomores in a regular course of study, and most failed to make the cut.

Something of the sort could be tried today at big public institutions. But I doubt very much whether such an expedient could be made to work. To begin with, in 1952, it cost next to nothing to spend a year at schools like the University of California. Today it costs an arm and a leg. Moreover, if it turned out – as it surely would turn out – that African-Americans and Hispanics were much more apt to bust out than Asian-Americans and those of solely European stock, faculty members would be charged with “racism,” the administration would fail to back them up, and we would soon have “affirmative action” in grading — for academics are not, by and large, a courageous lot.

If the aim is to genuinely improve the prospects of African-Americans and Hispanics, the only plausible expedient is to dramatically improve the schools that they attend. But there is a politically insuperable obstacle in the way: I have in mind the teachers’ unions.

Published in Education
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  1. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    I like what UT does. They don’t use test scores at all for 75% of students. Instead, they take the top 6% of students from each graduating class. Kids from weaker high schools get a chance by just being the best at their school. It really does a good job of helping minorities and kids from poor districts get a chance to excel. FYI, the other 25% is mostly merit based with admission based on test scores and high school performance. In the era of big data, universities can sort kids across then entire country by the GPA in their high school. This has replaced test scores for comparing kids from different schools. The UC system should replace a custom test with a auto admin and big data leveling. Hook’em!

    • #1
    • May 30, 2020, at 2:55 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    I’m sure the applicants from China, paying full out of state tuition, will do just fine without the SAT.

    Nothing new, in other words.

    • #2
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:05 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    I like what UT does. They don’t use test scores at all for 75% of students. Instead, they take the top 6% of students from each graduating class. Kids from weaker high schools get a chance by just being the best at their school. It really does a good job of helping minorities and kids from poor districts get a chance to excel. FYI, the other 25% is mostly merit based with admission based on test scores and high school performance. In the era of big data, universities can sort kids across then entire country by the GPA in their high school. This has replaced test scores for comparing kids from different schools. The UC system should replace a custom test with a auto admin and big data leveling. Hook’em!

    What is the “bust-out” rate for the group constituting 3/4 of the students at the University of Texas? And who busts out?

    • #3
    • May 30, 2020, at 3:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Paul A. Rahe:

    Public universities sometimes opted for another – far more rational expedient – for separating the sheep from the goats, and the University of California was in their number. As one individual observed in a letter published in The Wall Street Journal,

    I was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley in 1952. At that time there were no tests to get into the university. Any California student who graduated from his or her high school with a B or better average was eligible to attend.

    At the freshman orientation the president of the university invited 100 students at a time to his residence on campus. He had everyone hold hands. He said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. All of you are the best of your high schools, but only one of you will be here next semester.” And that was how the class was selected. Most of the one-third of the students who survived the freshman cut remained at Cal for four years.

    The University of Illinois had switched to taking either your SAT or your ACT score. I took both and did well enough on either to get in. Then, you submitted to the tender mercies of the College of Engineering. That is when I got the “look to your left, look to your right” speech, except instead of having us hold hands, they sat us all down in the Auditorium, and it was allowed that we might graduate from the University, only one of us would get through the College.

    • #4
    • May 30, 2020, at 4:12 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I got a letter from the University the summer before I started that informed me that based on my SAT score in English, I wouldn’t be required to take Freshman Rhetoric. This was either because my score was so high that they decided they wouldn’t be able to teach me anything, or because my score was so low that they decided they wouldn’t be able to teach me anything.

    • #5
    • May 30, 2020, at 4:21 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Mark Camp Member

    Reminds me.

    After flunking out of Duke once or twice,

    Hold on, I’ve got to take this.

    [Hello?….Yes, hi….Yes….ok, fine. Bye.]

    Hey, I’m back. As I was saying, after flunking out of Duke twice, I worked in a factory a couple years, and at that time was in love with a very beautiful woman whom I wanted to marry and care for my whole life, and these two circumstances convinced me to switch from Philosophy and Theoretical Physics in Durham, NC to Electrical Engineering, at Wash. U. in St. Louis.

    I was shocked, shocked when Wash. U. said I had to take Freshman English, like an ordinary Midwestern hayseed HS grad. Did they not realized that the Harvard of the South, from which I’d received the above-mentioned two official honors, had placed me out of the indignity of taking this remedial course for illiterates?

    I negotiated a compromise. I would take a tutorial and have to write a paper demonstrating my ability to write a sentence, admittedly a much more reliable test than getting a 780 on the SAT Achievement Test for English Composition, which had so impressed the Dukies. That’s sarcastic. So yes I guess maybe I’m still miffed a little.

    The Wash U. English Dept. came to regret their decision. I criticized every criticism my Prof. made of my drafts for two straight months, and won every argument by dint of sheer respiratory endurance. She gave me a quick “A” before Thanksgiving break, and happily saw me trot off to the Engineering building for the rest of my college career.

     

    • #6
    • May 30, 2020, at 5:11 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Southern Pessimist Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Reminds me.

    After flunking out of Duke once or twice,

    Hold on, I’ve got to take this.

    [Hello?….Yes, hi….Yes….ok, fine. Bye.]

    Hey, I’m back. As I was saying, after flunking out of Duke twice, I worked in a factory a couple years, and at that time was in love with a very beautiful woman whom I wanted to marry and care for my whole life, and these two circumstances convinced me to switch from Philosophy and Theoretical Physics in Durham, NC to Electrical Engineering, at Wash. U. in St. Louis.

    I was shocked, shocked when Wash. U. said I had to take Freshman English, like an ordinary Midwestern hayseed HS grad. Did they not realized that the Harvard of the South, from which I’d received the above-mentioned two official honors, had placed me out of the indignity of taking this remedial course for illiterates?

    I negotiated a compromise. I would take a tutorial and have to write a paper demonstrating my ability to write a sentence, admittedly a much more reliable test than getting a 780 on the SAT Achievement Test for English Composition, which had so impressed the Dukies. That’s sarcastic. So yes I guess maybe I’m still miffed a little.

    The Wash U. English Dept. came to regret their decision. I criticized every criticism my Prof. made of my drafts for two straight months, and won every argument by dint of sheer respiratory endurance. She gave me a quick “A” before Thanksgiving break, and happily saw me trot off to the Engineering building for the rest of my college career.

    Mark, although I never flunked out of Duke, despite significant effort, I share your distain for the elitist attitude I encountered there which has motivated me for almost 50 years to make amends for the guilt I have felt for participating in a very corrupt system that has created a new caste of educational Brahmins.

    • #7
    • May 30, 2020, at 6:44 PM PDT
    • 1 like
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. Mark Camp Member

    Southern Pessimist (View Comment):

    Mark, although I never flunked out of Duke, despite significant effort, I share your disdain for the elitist attitude I encountered there which has motivated me for almost 50 years to make amends for the guilt I have felt for participating in a very corrupt system that has created a new caste of educational Brahmins.

    I have great respect for anyone who tried and failed, finally succumbing to the indignity of graduation. Were it not for the game of bridge and the subtle wiles of Boone’s Farm apple wine, I confess I could not have succeeded in getting kicked out even once.

     

    • #8
    • May 30, 2020, at 7:18 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. Southern Pessimist Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Southern Pessimist (View Comment):

    Mark, although I never flunked out of Duke, despite significant effort, I share your disdain for the elitist attitude I encountered there which has motivated me for almost 50 years to make amends for the guilt I have felt for participating in a very corrupt system that has created a new caste of educational Brahmins.

    I have great respect for anyone who tried and failed, finally succumbing to the indignity of graduation. Were it not for the game of bridge and the subtle wiles of Boone’s Farm apple wine, I confess I could not have succeeded in getting kicked out even once.

     

    The Boone’s Farm wine certainly helped along with almost never ending games of spades or hearts in my group of fellow dissidents. There seemed to be more than a few of us who tried to waste a way any chance of real education but failed by graduating anyway.

    • #9
    • May 30, 2020, at 7:49 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. James Madison Member

    Herr Doctor Rahe is not admired in this quarter, but he is right on here.

    A few years ago, Rahe showed a lack of rigor in labeling something I said as “stupid.” (The kerfuffle began when I argued, quite correctly it turns out, that Hillary Clinton would never be punished for violating US national security law in the use of a private email system to hold secret data. My case was simple, a successful defense would be built around a lack of intent – despite the law specifically eliminating that condition – and Comey obliged. The “stupid” answer was right.)

    This pandemic has created a great opportunity for educational reform. Remote learning means all the basic courses usually taken in the first or second year of a college curriculum could be taken from home by anyone. They are often large lectures proctored by grad students anyway. Currently, when the local, allegedly crème de la crème profs (aka, divas) at mediocre colleges teach these today, they do so with a coterie of graders and adoring assistants. Why not simply chose the dozen top professors from across the nation or the world and designate them to teach, say Econ 101 or Intro Poli Sci via recorded lecturers for all freshman in the US. Sorry Bard and East Tennessee, no need for your professor to waste his time teaching that course when all Freshman in the US can choose between one of 12 nationally (or internationally) renowned names to take their course (the same people write the textbooks anyway). The finals can still be a combined multiple choice and essay – the latter graded by the same underlings who support the local mediocre diva profs on campus now.

    Further, and this is the important point, we can monitor what these professors teach. Let students decide whether gender studies or sustainable outrage sells when it comes time to learn Econ 101 (my bet, students will want to get the essence of the material and opt away from the indoctrination). For conservatives, this is a boon. We can essentially watch and critique the social justice nonsense that passes for instruction and call out those who preach teach such in nonsense.

    NOW the good part. If the first, say, … 20 courses could be canned like this, we could educate at home for half the time a student spends in an on-campus gender mixed dorm. And with the utilization of the physical plant reduced to 50% of capacity, we can multiply the number of students many times for a low marginal cost. And this means anyone who wants to sign up for the first twenty three-hour courses could do so. If they place in the top 20%, they can apply to finish their four year degree at whatever school who will accept them. If not, they get a 2 year certificate of completion (not a degree).

    Under the “2 Years to Prove” yourself system, we can eliminate the SAT, and substitute actual results. Preferences = Performance.

    • #10
    • May 31, 2020, at 4:55 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  11. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dream on. According to the prevailing political orthodoxy, everybody needs to go to college. The goal as a result is rising high school graduation rates. Standards must be adjusted accordingly, i.e., lowered. What will happen is that additional rot will set in at the university level. Guaranteed. 

    What will result is the value of an American college education will decrease.

    • #11
    • May 31, 2020, at 12:22 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In practice, all of this is obfuscation: for, as I argued on 18 May in “The Value of Standardized Testing,” the real aim of those who want to eliminate standardized testing or make it optional is to make it possible for their schools to practice that species of systematic racial discrimination that passes under the euphemism “affirmative action” without anyone being able to prove that this is what they are doing.

    Paul,

    As long as the magic race card can be played there will be no end to the devaluation of standards. Whatever result does not conform to the statistical expectations of racial engineering, these results will be deemed the result of racism (systemic, inherent,..whatever). Even basic minimal academic standards can not be maintained under such an irrational system.

    The point is simple. If you can not do the work then you can not do the job. Ultimately, we need people to do the job in this society or we will fail as a society. At a deeper level, we might realize that the kind of racial engineering that has been going on since the first quota-based rulings of the early 70s, is racist itself. It degrades us morally to continue to follow this irrational path.

    Two wrongs won’t make a right. Not now not ever.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
    • May 31, 2020, at 2:55 PM PDT
    • 1 like