Scrapping SATs will not reduce racial inequality
The alternatives are even more biased
Many US universities use standardised testing — known as SATs and ACTs — to (partly) determine who they give a place to. They also pay attention to “grade point averages”, GPAs — how well you did at school, basically — and to essays.
There’s been a move recently to drop standardised testing. The University of California colleges have scrapped it. And this week, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, announced that Florida’s universities will do the same. The concern is that standardised testing disproportionately favours wealthy, white applicants.
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I think that’s likely true. But scrapping standardised testing is still probably a bad idea, because all the other things you can replace it with are worse.
As Freddie de Boer points out, yes, SAT scores are correlated with socioeconomic status (SES), albeit weakly. But so are grade point averages, to almost exactly the same degree. And essay grades are more strongly correlated with household income, at least according to this big study from earlier this year. If you remove SATs, you’ll end up putting more emphasis on essay scores, and as Sanjay Srivastava of the University of Oregon says here, there’s then a strong risk that you end up making university admissions more directly linked to SES.
And the early evidence is that scrapping SATs doesn’t work. It’s only one year’s data, but the percentage of University of California applications from underrepresented groups “remained essentially flat as a proportion of the applicant pool”, while the percentage of applicants with low family income “decreased to 41.5 percent of applicants from 43.5 percent last year”.
It’s worth remembering what the point of these tests is. The idea is to find talented students who will do well at university. And using a combination of standardised testing and GPA is a strong predictor of how well a student will do. If you remove testing, the predictive ability falls: GPA alone predict students’ success, but only about half as well as SATs plus GPA. Moving to “holistic” admissions — looking at essays, extracurricular activities, how good a “fit” the applicant is, to predict success — simply does not happen. But letting professors judge who they think best “fits” the university is almost inevitably going to end up with those professors picking the people most like themselves: people from disproportionately wealthy, educated backgrounds.
Yes, black and Hispanic students do worse on SATs than white and Asian ones. But that is not primarily a problem with the SATs. As progressives rightly say, black and Hispanic students have faced generations of prejudice and inequality which make it harder for them to progress in the education system. SATs are measuring the impact of that inequality. Bridging that gap will be difficult; stopping people from measuring it is easier, but won’t solve the fundamental problem.
If we want to increase the number of poor and minority students in universities, removing SATs is unlikely to do it, at least if we then solely focus on the existing, equally if not more biased, alternatives. You could do other things — run it as a complete lottery, so that there is no attempt to find the smartest students, for instance. But that would be a huge change to the university system. In the US specifically, Jay Caspian Kang suggests hugely increasing the pipeline from (mainly working-class) community colleges to the Ivies and other top universities.
Removing standardised testing is not the answer, because it will simply put more weight on the opinions of flawed humans. As so often, the worry about bias in algorithms forgets just how biased human judgment is.
Funnily enough orchestras are getting rid of blind auditions and the US forces are abandoning the practice of omitting photos from the resumes of candidates for promotion. The racist assumption behind blind auditions and photo suppression was that Whitey would be prejudiced against minority applicants if he could see them.
Unfortunately, the result of doing this was fewer black musicians and officers. White musicians played better and white officer applicants were better, but suffered from racial prejudice if the selectors knew they were white. If they didn’t know, they were treated equally, and came out on top.
“picking the people most like themselves” is a racist lie.
black and Hispanic students have faced generations of prejudice and inequality
inequality of IQ certainly.
I thought the blind auditions were to e sure that female applicants could get hired, a cording to.Mozart in the Jungle.
Reference for this?
I must say that life must be very hard for the ultra liberally-minded point of view. Quite often, these folks must be perplexed or confused by having opinions that are in constant conflict with each other.
This is just one more example. On one hand, you acknowledge that evolution is how humans came to being, yet when the outcome of the evolutionary process is not to your liking, you advocate for it to be more equal, via civil rights legislation (rightly so) and then do the complete opposite years later by advocating for racism to “remedy” the situation.
The same goes with with abortion. You fight for laws to be passed in order to protect the lives of animals, concoct every imaginable protection (just look at the number of labels on a simple step ladder) to save every possible human life from an accident or virus, yet have little issue with aborting millions of unborn children annually.
You have no problem with having extreme over representation of minorities in professional sports or entertainment, yet you get apoplectic over university enrollments.
The most egregious recent example is your fight for the absolutely insane idea of gender being a choice. Yet, when fully mature men, who exercise their new right, want to inhabit a women’s shelter, you become outraged.
Do you not see how difficult it is for the more conservative minded to be utterly distressed by this thought process?
I’m wondering when you will start forcing lions to remove their teeth in order to save more gazelles? (Probably blame climate change for the decline in native grassland once the gazelles eat all of it.)
“But letting professors judge who they think best “fits” the university is almost inevitably going to end up with those professors picking the people most like themselves: people from disproportionately wealthy, educated backgrounds.”
Careful Tom! You will give the Social Justice Warriors ideas! Professors must all be sacked forthwith, and replaced with a cadre of Diversity Commissars of all shapes and sizes. What could go wrong?
What could go wrong? I think the question is what difference would it make. Sounds like a pretty good description of most right now
The thesis of the article is correct but I would have hoped Tom would have spent a little more time checking the accuracy of the factual claims in the article, given the reception to other recent articles by him in this forum.
DeSantis did not revoke the use of any test used for admission to university and is not proposing removing standardized testing as part of determining ability to advance grade levels in K through 12th grade. He is proposing the more frequent use of much shorter tests to achieve a closer to real-time evaluation of student progress.
Thanks for this fact check. I must admit I was a bit taken aback when I read that – this makes much more sense.
As long as inner city schools, especially in New York, California and other Democrat strongholds – continue to ‘socially promote’ students rather than seek real results, black and brown minorities are doomed to remain at the bottom of the economic barrel. It’s that simple. The extremely low percentage of black students who can barely pass reading and math exams in these areas are criminal. The main problem is the Teacher’s Unions which have a stranglehold on the Democrat Party, neither of which in the end cares about the students but rather the lining of their own pockets with money. As they say, “Houston, we have a problem”.
As an ex-pat who has lived in the US for the last 30 years plus, I partially agree with Tom. But to be honest, the US University admissions system has always struck me as deeply flawed. First, the professors do not select the students, the admission’s officers do that. Second, there are no interviews with university faculty, but rather with local university alumni. The British system is far superior. Proper and serious exams in the form of A levels and interviews by a panel of faculty. No question that the British system is vastly superior.
When I was an Oxford ungraduate back in the early 70s, I knew several Americans who’d come over for graduate study. In every case, they had to start in the second year of the appropriate three-year BA course, because the (normally) four years they’d spent studying for their Bachelor’s degree at a US university (mostly Ivy League and equivalent, given that their families had to be pretty well off to send them to England) was counted as a single year of a UK BA.
I think it’s partly to do with specialisation, which is unusual even within Europe: in most European countries, 16+ students study six or even more subjects for our equivalent of A levels, though they may not be examined in all of them. Here they generally do 3 A levels. The USA is even more general, with university students studying a variety of subjects until they finally choose their ‘major’ (generally, IIRC, in their second year, but not always even then, as it can be changed).
In Britain, there was about 15% of schools, the top public ( Winchester , Westminster ) and grammar schools ( Manchester, King Edward VI , B’ Ham )which could offer s superb academic education and have done so since the 16h Century. A friend at Kind Edward VIth was taught maths by a Cambridge Wrangler! The top schools allowed pupils to move at least one year ahead and taught to first year degree standard, the Oxford, Cambridge and University Scholarship Exams.Even prep schools had teachers from Oxford and Cambridge. At prep schools French started at 7 years of age , Latin at 8 and Greek at 9.
The problem is that there are not enough teachers to offer the whole country the rigorous hiogh level education offfered by Winchester , MGS, King Edward VIth , etc
Huxley, who won the Nobel Prize did a very interesting talk on why Britain had won so many prizes. Huxley said it was due to selection at 11 or 13 years of age and rigorous training from a young age. O levels tested memory and from A Levels onwards, conceptual thought was developed. This meant one could earn a degree at 20 and a doctorate at 22 years of age;often 5 to 7 years ahead of people from other countries.
The combining of CSEs and O Levels and dropping of Oxbridge / University Scholarship exams has meant university degrees have been extended by 1 to 2 years . The Imperial /Cambridge Science and Engineering Batchelors used to be masters level standard from any other universities in other countries.
While I largely agree with you, Johann (see my previous comment), it has to be admitted that these days, a lot of British universities don’t bother to interview their applicants except for vocational subjects such as medicine and veterinary science. I taught English at secondary (= high school for US readers) level till I retired a couple of years ago, and had plenty of students who would apply to five universities (the maximum allowed) and be accepted by all or most of them without ever having seen hide or hair of of interviewer.
All probably true, except that the recent A levels standard has dropped dramatically…. what was it again…. by about 40%? I’m sure someone can remember the recent article on this.
As a former university lecturer at a British University, I can tell you that interviews for university places here are only used in a minority of cases. Oxford and Cambridge and a very few other top universities are the only ones to conduct interviews routinely. The move to mass university education has taken us much closer to the situation in the US.
No doubt. It seems that all bad ideas from the US eventually find their way over to the UK.
San Diego schools are already replacing school grades with citizenship grades:
This is nothing new. I heard ideas like this being pushed forward even ten years ago. The idea behind this is that there is a surplus of intelligent people who think too much. Instead, society needs people who contribute to the social good, therefore public schools should be teaching politically correct attitudes to their students. The rich and powerful pay lip-service to this theory, yet circumnavigate it by sending their children to expensive private schools.
Oddly enough, you make a pretty good argument for the idea you oppose. Not politically correct attitudes – but given the state of politics, financial crashes and general greed and selfishness – perhaps we should be selecting for some kind of “goodness”.
Yes, I agree, but not through citizenship scores. There is a real risk we end up with something similar to China’s social credit ratings.
Why not just give everyone a degree when they reach a certain birthday? Then the ones who actually want to learn something can go to classes and write essays and take tests if they want, but the others can just move into the workforce.
I believe that although SAT tests and IQ tests appear to test different things, the results from the two are so similar that they are effectively measuring the same thing. (Anybody have a reference for this?)
While for the population taken as a whole it might not make much difference whether it’s exams, essays or SATs, for those bright kids facing particular difficulties at home, in school etc it might provide an alternative route to success.
Take the average family income (or net worth) and the matching SAT scores per school, and normalise SAT scores over the average school income for each student. This is so that all schools end up with an average SAT score that drops with increasing average family income in a given school. This way the SAT score of an applicant from a school with mainly rich kids gets penalised, and poor people’s schools’ scores get proportionately boosted.
But the people who score high are still the most likely to succeed for that particular school (and so community) in college. This removes incentives for poor income students to go to selective schools, sends a diverse group of people to elite colleges, and also distributes America’s elite into a broader set of colleges instead of isolating in a few Ivy league colleges.
There you go. I optimised diversity and capability selection in college admissions and addressed segregation problems in schooling…
‘Scrapping SATs doesn’t work’ – yes it does, it works perfectly at achieving the policymakers’ ends.
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