Chapter 2:

Precollege Education


High School Completion


Racial/ethnic and disability status differences in high school completion rates contribute to differences in college enrollment. (Women are as likely to graduate from high school as men—among people age 25 or older, 82 percent of both men and women graduated from high school.) Among all people age 25 or older in 1995, 86 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 74 percent of non-Hispanic blacks, and 53 percent of Hispanics were high school graduates. (See appendix table 2-13.)

Gains in high school completion by blacks in recent years have narrowed the educational gap. In 1975, 87 percent of whites and 71 percent of blacks in the 25 to 29 age group had completed high school. By 1995, 92 percent of whites and 87 percent of blacks in that age range had completed high school.

Hispanics (of any race) have the lowest high school completion rates and have experienced the least gains over time. In 1995, 57 percent of those in the 25 to 29 age group were high school graduates, a modest increase from 53 percent in 1975. The low high school completion rates are partly explained by the large number of foreign-born Hispanics who entered the United States without a high school education. The lower high school completion rates for blacks and Hispanics may also be related to family income. Youths between the ages of 16 and 24 who lived in families with low income levels were eight times more likely to drop out than those from families with higher incomes (McMillan and Kaufman, 1997).

Students with disabilities have an annual dropout rate of 5 percent. Students with disabilities who drop out of school are less likely than those without disabilities to eventually receive high school diplomas or certificates. Drop out and graduation rates vary by type of disability, with those with visual and hearing impairments most likely to have graduated with a diploma. Those with serious emotional disturbances are most likely to have dropped out. (See appendix table 2-14.)

Transition to Higher Education top

The United States has one of the highest rates in the world of secondary students who go into higher education and earn college degrees (National Science Board, 1998). The transition from secondary school to college is an important step, not only to the person making it, but also to a nation committed to the education of its citizens in a technological world. This section analyzes data primarily on high school seniors who graduated in 1996, many of whom will earn a college degree in the year 2000.

Usually, many people are involved in the student’s decision to attend a college—students and their parents, along with guidance counselors and teachers. For students from low-income families, however, guidance counselors, teachers, friends, and youth leaders are almost as important as parents in helping to make decisions about post-high-school plans (Gallup International Institute, 1996.) These individuals help students to assess their strengths and weaknesses and to clarify their goals; the earlier in high school they are discussed, the more successful students are in attaining their goals (Rodriguez, 1993). Taking assessment tests during high school also helps students ascertain their strengths and weaknesses and choose suitable colleges.

Several organizations are also involved in assessing student aptitude or achievement. In 1900, the College Board was founded as a national membership association of schools and colleges. The College Board currently administers the Advanced Placement, the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), and the SAT tests through the Educational Testing Service. In 1961, American College Testing (ACT) was founded to measure students’ educational development through the ACT Assessment. None of these tests individually provides data that can be considered nationally representative of all college bound seniors, because students in different states tend to take either the SAT or the ACT (see sidebar on State-by-State breakout of SAT or ACT on page 29), but they do provide information on the transition from high school to college.

Almost three-fourths of high school seniors take either the SAT or the ACT in preparation for applying to college.[11]  Results of these exams are important to students for planning purposes and to colleges for admissions purposes. It is important to note, however, that many students who go to 2-year colleges do not take either test, and that approximately 10 percent of 4-year colleges indicate that SAT and ACT scores are optional for admission (calculation by NSF/SRS based on data from National Center for Fair & Open Testing 1997 and from National Center for Education Statistics 1997 IPEDS surveys, unpublished tabulations).

It is important to note that although test scores can help evaluate a student’s academic preparedness in terms of strengths and weaknesses, "directors of admission say that high school grades are still the most important factor in the selection of a freshman class" (College Board, 1997b, p. 4). The percentage of college admissions directors who indicated that school achievement was very important was 87 percent, compared with 46 percent who indicated that test scores were very important; however, highly selective colleges may base admissions on formulas in which standardized test scores account for as much as two-thirds of the calculation (Hernandez, 1997). Although they do not measure many characteristics necessary for success in college, such as motivation, creativity, and persistence, admissions tests are designed to provide a consistent measure across the variety of curricula and opportunities offered in U.S. high schools.

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The ACT top

The ACT Assessment Test is a 2-hour 40-minute, multiple-choice examination administered five times a year by the American College Testing Program in Iowa. According to ACT, the test is designed to measure critical reasoning and higher order thinking skills in four curriculum areas—English, mathematics, reading, and science. The composite score is an average of the scores on each of the components on a scale from 1 to 36, with a mean of 18 for the sample of students who take the test nationally. Scores must be different by more than 0.2 points to be significant at the 95 percent level of confidence.

ACT states that these tests reflect students’ skills and achievement levels as products of their high school experience and serve as measures of preparation for academic work in college. ACT results are used by postsecondary institutions for admissions, academic advising, course placement, and scholarships. A Federal court has faulted colleges in Mississippi, however, for basing student aid awards on cut-off scores from the ACT because it restricts black students’ access to predominantly white colleges (Healy, 1997).

Most students take the test in their junior year of high school. (There is a P-ACT+ test offered that helps students to become familiar with the test format before taking the ACT.) The students who take the ACT are self-selected and do not represent the entire population of college-bound students. Further, the percentage of students who take the ACT, as opposed to the SAT, varies considerably by State. (See sidebar on page 29.) Many factors—such as motivation to learn, parental support, the quality of teaching, socioeconomic status—contribute to individual and group achievement scores (American College Testing, 1996).

 

Women top

Women accounted for the majority of test-takers of the Advanced Placement (see page 28) tests (55 percent), the SAT (53 percent), and the ACT (55 percent) in 1996. The number of women taking these tests has increased considerably in the 1990s, and women are also increasing their performance on the tests. In fact, they provide most of the increases seen in total test scores for the ACT and over half in the SAT since 1991, although men have increased their scores also. (See text table 2-2.)

The ACT score changes show greater progress for women, as the overall gap in composite scores between men and women narrowed from 0.5 points in 1991 to 0.2 points in 1996, not a significant difference. The SAT scores indicate that women have made greater progress than men from 1991 to 1996 in both verbal and mathematics mean scores. In this period, the mean scores changed in the following ways:

Even with this progress for women, women’s scores on average are lower than men’s in 1996 on the SAT. Two ways in which men and women taking the college placement tests differ are in their socioeconomic characteristics and type of coursework taken in high school.

Socioeconomic Differences top

From the SAT and ACT student data, it is clear that a larger number of women than men from lower income families choose to take college entrance tests. Although the proportions of test takers from the higher family income groups were about evenly split between males and females, among the lowest income groups, women accounted for over 60 percent of the test takers. (See appendix table 2-15.) Given that parental income is related to average scores (College Board, unpublished tabulations), then this fact would mean that the higher proportion of women test takers who are from low-income families would likely reduce the overall averages for women test takers.

Course-Taking Differences top

Do course-taking differences account for test score differences among groups? This was believed earlier, as a 1987 National Academy of Sciences report stated that "The general consensus is that these gender differences in college admission mathematics test scores can be largely accounted for by differences in the amount of mathematics, physical science, and computer programming courses that high school and college-bound women take compared to their male peers" (LeBold, 1987, p. 67). More recent studies have shown that although this is a small part of the explanation, there is "the need for more comprehensive research on gender, race, and SES [socio-economic status] differences in science achievement growth" (Madigan, 1997, p. 12).

Differences between quantitative course taking by female and male high school students have lessened in the 1990s, as shown in earlier sections of this report. Similar proportions of women and men took honors mathematics and science classes (29 percent) according to SAT data for 1996 college bound seniors. (See appendix table 2-16.) In terms of level of classes taken, the percentages of women and men taking higher level mathematics were nearly the same. Only small gaps remained between the percentages of men and women who had taken trigonometry (2 percent), precalculus (3 percent), and calculus (4 percent). In science classes, similar percentages of both men and women had taken biology and chemistry; however, a larger gap existed in the percentage who had taken physics (9 percentage points higher among men than women) (College Board, 1996, SAT unpublished tabulations).

The reduction in differences in mathematics course taking leads to the question, Are the average mathematics scores of men and women who took the same level mathematics class more similar? At the lower mathematics level classes (geometry and trigonometry), differences in the mean SAT scores of men and women persist but are smaller than differences at the higher level classes, such as calculus, according to both SAT and ACT data.

An examination of SAT mathematics test scores for only the students who reported taking the highest level of mathematics (calculus) and science (physics) showed that women scored lower on average than men. Among those who took calculus, women averaged 594 and men 631 on the SAT mathematics test; this difference—37 points—is similar to that for men and women test takers in general (35 points difference). Among those who took physics, women averaged 542 and men 577—a 35-point gap (College Board, 1996, SAT unpublished tabulations).

ACT data also show that women who took calculus and physics reported higher grade point averages than men in their high school mathematics and science classes. In the ACT mathematics and science test sections, however, the average scores of women were also lower than those of men. (See text table 2-3.) Educators and researchers in both the academic community and within the testing organizations have been concerned about the underlying reasons for this disparity. In 1997, ETS released a study (Cole, 1997) that had three interesting results that pertain to this issue.

There is a gap between men and women in writing, but is it relevant for scientists and engineers? As National Education Goals for the year 2000, Goal 3, Objective 2 recommends that "the proportion of college graduates who demonstrate an advanced ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and solve problems will increase substantially" (National Education Goals Panel, 1997). "Good communication skills, both verbal and written, rank high among the top priorities of those in business and industry" (Barabas, 1990). Employers of engineering graduates rated speaking/writing as one of the most important areas of competence, and yet these same areas were identified as the most deficient in these graduates (Kimel and Monsees, 1979).

College Credit From Advanced Placement top

Half of the high schools in the United States offer Advanced Placement (AP) college-level classes, and the number of students taking AP tests for college credit is increasing each year, reaching over 500,000 students in 1996. Of these, 200,000 qualified for college credit by earning a certain score on AP exams taken in high school (College Board, 1996c).

Of the subjects offered for AP exams, 12 are science or mathematics subjects. Women constituted over half of the test takers in psychology and biology. These subjects were followed by calculus AB[13]  (47 percent female) and chemistry (42 percent female). The science subject in which women were least likely to take an AP exam was computer science, where women accounted for only 20 percent of the computer science A and 12 percent of the computer science AB[14]  test takers. (See appendix table 2-17.)

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The SAT top

The SAT is a 3-hour, primarily multiple-choice test that measures verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities. According to the SAT Program, it is related to successful freshman performance in college and is intended to supplement the high school record and other information about the student in assessing readiness for college-level work. Over the years, the average SAT scores have drifted downward from 500 on both sections to 424 on the verbal and 478 on the mathematics sections. The main reason average SAT scores have drifted is the dramatic expansion in the number of test takers from 10,000 in its beginning to over 1 million now. Beginning in April 1995, the SAT scores were "recentered" to 500 as the midpoint of the 200–800 scale for both the verbal and mathematics portions. All tables in this report use the recentered scores that have been calculated by the College Board for earlier years. The College Board has studied the complex area of how well the SAT predicts freshman grades. (College Board, 1996d).

 

Underrepresented Minorities top

Introduction top

Students who decide to go to college usually take a college admissions test if they are planning to apply to a 4-year college or university, but may not take the test if they are planning only to apply to a 2-year college. Two-year colleges play a somewhat larger role in the higher education of minority students than they do of white students. (See text table 2-4.)

College admission test data for "1996 college bound students," then, may not be representative of all students who went on to college, especially for Hispanic and American Indian students.

For those who decide to take a college admission test, registration includes a student questionnaire. Both the ACT and the SAT student questionnaires ask for race/ethnicity.

Therefore, the data provided on ACT and SAT by race/ethnicity groups cover 89 percent of both ACT and SAT test takers.

There are some differences in the proportions of each racial/ethnic group who take the SAT versus the ACT. (See text table 2-5.) Some of these differences reflect the distinct differences found by State (see sidebar on page 29). For example, American Indian/Alaskan Natives are much more likely to take the ACT and Asian/Pacific Islanders are much more likely to take the SAT.

Note that the data presented in this section do not include students in Puerto Rico. The ACT is not given in Puerto Rico and although an SAT-equivalent test is given in Puerto Rico, those test scores are not included in the SAT data for Hispanics. Since Puerto Ricans ages 16 to 19 years living in Puerto Rico account for 14 percent of the Hispanic population in the United States (Puerto Ricans living on the continent account for another 10 percent of the Hispanic population) (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993a, b), a significant part of the Hispanic population overall is not included in this section. The number of high school graduates in Puerto Rico is increasing (in 1996, a total of 36,600 students graduated from both public and private high schools in Puerto Rico), and many of these graduates consider going to college and taking the SAT. The SAT-equivalent test administered in Puerto Rico by the College Board is given in Spanish; for academic year 1995–1996, 32,490 persons took the test, of whom 58 percent were women. Only about one-fourth of persons who took the test had a parent who had a college degree (College Board, 1995), so most of these students were the first generation in their families to go to college.

Increased Participation in College Admissions Test Taking top

One of the major pieces of information derived from data on the ACT and SAT is that the number of high school seniors from underrepresented minority groups taking college admissions tests has increased significantly in the 1990s. Although the number of white students taking the SAT declined slightly (–1 percent) between 1991 and 1996, the number of minority students taking the test has increased 13 percent (the largest percentage increases were among Mexican American and Latin American students). (See appendix table 2-18.) During this same period, the number of ACT test takers increased 11 percent for whites and 29 percent for minority students. (See appendix table 2-19.)

The College Board data indicate that a higher proportion of underrepresented minorities make the decision to take a college admission test late in high school. Students who have plans for college early in high school often begin by taking a commercial "diagnostic SAT" in 10th grade, the PSAT in 11th grade, sometimes an SAT preparation class, and then the SAT in 11th grade and/or 12th grade. Parents play a major role in educating their children to this schedule and process, particularly if the parents have gone to college themselves. But college experience of parents varies greatly by racial/ethnic group, with blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians having the lowest percentages of parents with college degrees. (See figure 2-9.) Among these underrepresented groups, the majority of high school seniors taking the SAT are trying to be the first generation of their family to go to college. (See appendix table 2-20.)

Although guidance counselors and teachers in the schools may help some "first-generation" students understand this process of planning for college, data on the percentage of SAT takers who had taken the PSAT earlier indicate that this process was not taking place for a higher percentage of students in these underrepresented groups. The students with the lowest percents who had taken the PSAT were Hispanic, American Indian, and black men; the next lowest percentages were among the women in these groups. (See figure 2-10.)

Increased Preparation for College top

The American College Testing service has been tracking the percentage of their test takers who have taken core courses in high school: 4 years of English and 3 years each of mathematics, science, and social studies. The number of students who have taken at least a core curriculum in high school has been increasing greatly, from 51 percent in 1991 to 61 percent in 1996. Among underrepresented minorities, the increases have been significant also: for blacks—an increase from 45 to 55 percent of test takers; for American Indians—an increase from 40 to 49 percent; and for Hispanics—an increase from 49 to 56 percent. The increase for Asians was 64 to 71 percent of test takers (American College Testing, 1996).

Data on test takers by race are also available by family income. Average ACT scores for each racial/ethnic group are higher for those with core curriculum preparation, as would be expected; average scores also increase with family income. (See appendix table 2-21.)

College Credit From Advanced Placement top

The number of high school students enrolling in AP courses and then taking AP tests for college credit has increased considerably in the last few years. Over half of the high schools in the United States offer AP college level classes; in 1996, over 500,000 students enrolled in AP classes. Of these, 40 percent qualified for college credit from their scores on AP exams taken in high school (College Board, 1996c).

Of the subjects offered for AP exams, 12 are in science or mathematics. The AP courses with the highest number of underrepresented minorities enrolled were calculus AB and biology. The proportion of underrepresented minorities among the AP candidates in these two subjects was 9 percent for both; for chemistry and physics B, the representation was 8 and 7 percent, respectively. (See appendix table 2-22.)

According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), admissions officers are impressed by Advanced Placement course taking—even if the test is not taken. This importance makes it necessary to understand some of the differential opportunities for minority students to take the AP classes. The Advanced Placement at the College Board indicated that the schools that don’t offer AP classes fall into four categories:

Although the first three groups may affect large numbers of American Indians, these and the last category may affect large numbers of black and Hispanic students. Wade Curry, head of the AP at the College Board, explained that "magnet high schools draw off the most academically inclined students and produce fairly large numbers of AP scholars. But the schools they draw from then tend not to offer the courses, leaving those students behind." He has found that "African American students who do well on the AP tests tend to be either in the urban magnets or in predominantly white, suburban school systems where there are between five and twenty African American students who take the courses" (Chenoweth, 1997, p. 22).

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Percentage of High School Graduates[1] 
Taking the SAT or ACT by State: 1996

States
Percentage
taking SAT
Percentage
taking ACT
States
Percentage
taking SAT
Percentage
taking ACT
National
41
35
Missouri
9
63
Alabama
8
57
Montana
21
54
Alaska
47
35
Nebraska
9
72
Arizona
28
27
Nevada
31
39
Arkansas
6
64
New Hampshire
70
3
California
45
11
New Jersey
69
2
Colorado
30
60
New Mexico
12
59
Connecticut
79
2
New York
73
16
Delaware
66
4
North Carolina
59
11
District of Columbia
50
5
North Dakota
5
77
Florida
48
34
Ohio
24
58
Georgia
63
16
Oklahoma
8
63
Hawaii
54
15
Oregon
50
11
Idaho
15
59
Pennsylvania
71
6
Illinois
14
67
Rhode Island
69
1
Indiana
57
19
South Carolina
57
13
Iowa
5
64
South Dakota
5
65
Kansas
9
70
Tennessee
14
77
Kentucky
12
62
Texas
48
30
Louisiana
9
73
Utah
4
66
Maine
68
2
Vermont
70
3
Maryland
64
9
Virginia
68
5
Massachusetts
80
5
Washington
47
15
Michigan
11
64
West Virginia
17
54
Minnesota
9
59
Wisconsin
8
63
Mississippi
4
68
Wyoming
11
64
[1] Based on number of high school graduates in 1996 as projected by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and number of students in the class of 1996 who took the SAT or ACT.
NOTES: Puerto Rico is not included. A very low percentage of students may have taken both tests.
SOURCE: College Board (1996c) and American College Testing (1996).

 

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Studies on the Effects of California Proposition 209, Hopwood v. Texas, and the Use of Test Scores on Student Access at Selective Colleges and Universities top

A new study (Nettles and Perna, 1997) by the Frederick T. Patterson Research Institute of The College Fund/UNCF addresses this issue. The authors, Michael Nettles and Laura Perna, discuss the challenge of admissions tests in the admissions process. "The way colleges and universities treat admissions test scores, such as the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), the American College Test (ACT) and the Advanced Placement (AP) examinations, in the admissions process plays a vital role in the number of African Americans and Hispanics who are admitted and who enroll. The variety and range of criteria including admissions tests and other characteristics of individuals (e.g., geographic origin, alumni relations, educational and career aspirations, etc.), as well as the weight assigned to each criterion, is important" (p. 19). To understand the role of affirmative action, The Patterson Research Institute plans to study further a sample of highly competitive universities to understand the possible impact of California Proposition 209 and Hopwood v. Texas on diversity.[15] 

The Educational Testing Service is also completing a study called "Hopwood, Bakke, and Beyond in College Admissions" (Educational Testing Service, 1997). If college admissions are based more on test scores as a result of these, and since underrepresented minorities constitute only 4.1 percent of students who scored 1200 or higher on the SAT, it is important to know more about the students scoring between 1000 and 1200 on the SAT. This study examines the "educational striver" student pool.

Continuing earlier studies by Claude Steele at Stanford University (see National Science Foundation, 1994, 1996), a new study describes how negative stereotypes are achievement barriers and how they shape the intellectual identity of women and minorities. Steele’s research shows that this "threat dramatically depresses the standardized test performance of women and African-Americans who are in the academic vanguard of their groups (offering a new interpretation of group differences in standardized test performance)." He offers strategies for policy and practice in schools that can reduce the threats to stereotyped groups (Steele, 1997, p. 613).

 

Persons With Disabilities top

Data on disability from the SAT and ACT are collected in two ways: from student questionnaires and from requests for special testing accommodations.

Student Questionnaires top

When persons first register to take college placement exams, they are asked on the student questionnaires to (1) "Indicate any permanently disabling condition," with six response choices (SAT), or (2) "Please respond to this item only if you have a physical or diagnosed learning disability," with eight categories (ACT). The ACT states on the student questionnaire that the information is used by colleges only to provide financial aid and special services.

About 5 percent (over 40,000) of students taking the SAT in 1996 checked a category indicating a disability; the ACT also had 5 percent (almost 20,000) of students who indicated a disability category in 1996. Among college-bound seniors in 1996 who indicated a disability and took the SAT, 51 percent were male and 49 percent female; underrepresented minorities accounted for 18 percent of those indicating a disability (compared with 21 percent for all college-bound seniors) (ACT and SAT, unpublished tabulations).

The average SAT scores in 1996 of those who indicated a disability were lower than those who did not. (See text table 2-6.)

Data from the ACT are reported according to the category of disability and show variability among the groups of students in terms of their average scores in 1996. (See text table 2-7.)

Special Testing Format/Conditions top

Among SAT test takers, almost 20,000 students took the test under nonstandard conditions. These test takers had average scores (463 verbal and 452 mathematics) that were below the average of all test takers who indicated on the student questionnaire that they had a permanent disability yet did not request special testing formats (472 verbal and 468 mathematics) (College Board, unpublished data).

The ACT also has data available on the almost 20,000 students who requested special testing formats. (See text table 2-8.) Many of these students do not fill out student questionnaires and, therefore, may not be included in the data presented above. Data from ACT on special testing formats are not nationally representative of any of the disability categories and do not include all students with disabilities (many of whom took the regular administration of the test). Still, it is interesting to note the variety of conditions of students who were taking the college placement tests under special testing administration (ACT, 1996, unpublished tabulations).

Students who take the ACT under special administration to accommodate a disability are often flagged as such when their test scores are provided to college admissions offices. The College Board funded a study on how the admissions process may be affected by these flags, as well as the validity of admissions tests scores for disabled applicants. The main finding of that study was that students with disabilities were admitted on much the same basis as the other applicants, though in some instances particular groups of applicants were somewhat less likely to be admitted than would be expected (learning disabled) or somewhat more likely to be admitted (for example, hearing impaired) to special programs. The report also states that "Admissions decisions predicted on the basis of either SAT or HSG (high school grades) correlated slightly less with actual decisions in the case of handicapped applicants than others. This result suggests that factors other than SAT and HSG play a slightly larger role in the case of handicapped applicants, though not necessarily to their advantage" (Willingham, 1988, p. 81).

Advanced Placement Exams do not collect data from the students on any possible disability. If requested and approved, however, AP exams are offered at the high school site in a variety of testing alternative procedures, which include special arrangements, extended time, use of a reader or sign language interpreter, or special test editions (for example, Braille, cassette, photo-enlarged). Students must have official certification of their disability on file at the school to verify the need for special testing arrangements. The number of AP science exams taken in May 1997 under special testing arrangements were

Biology 267
Chemistry 112
Physics B 55
Physics A 50

Note that these numbers would not include the disabled students who took AP exams under regular testing conditions.

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Equity, Fairness, and Educational Testing top

Achievement test scores are only one of many factors used to predict success in higher education. Reliance on test scores in decisions about individual students or in policy decisions involving groups of students raises issues of equity and fairness in the educational system and in the distribution of "rewards" for achievement. The following quotation from a Congressional report indicates how issues of equity and fairness have been linked with tests and their results (U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, 1992).

Steven Jay Gould’s ... treatise on the history of intelligence testing is dedicated to "...the memory of Grammy and Papa Joe, who came, struggled, and prospered, Mr. Goddard notwithstanding."[1]  ... As Gould explains midway through the book, Goddard had been one of a handful of prominent American psychologists who used test data to advance racist, xenophobic, and eugenicist ideologies. Although Goddard himself later recanted,[2]  ... the atmosphere of the 1920s and 1930s gave tests "...the rather happy property of being a conservative social innovation. They could be perceived as justifying the richness of the rich and the poverty of the poor; they legitimized the existing social order."[3] ...

Testing policy arouses the passions of Americans concerned with equal opportunity and social mobility. As in the past, those passions run in both directions: everyone may agree that testing can be a wedge, but some see the wedge forcing open the gates of opportunity while others see it as the doorstop keeping the gates tightly shut.

Consider, for example, the following excerpts ... :

...minority youngsters who...are disproportionately among the poor, tend to be relegated to poor schools, or tracked out of academic courses, just as young women are not encouraged to take math and science. Therefore, the differences in the "group" scores [on the Scholastic Aptitude Test]...represent anything but "bias." Rather, the score is a faithful messenger of the unequal distribution in our country of educational resources and encouragement.[4] 

Test makers claim that the lower test scores of racial and ethnic minorities and of students from low-income families simply reflect the biases and inequities that exist in American schools and American society. Biases and inequities certainly exist—but standardized tests do not merely reflect their impact; they compound them.[5] 

... Both sides appear to agree that tests can be used to identify inequalities in educational opportunities.[6]  But the question becomes how to use that information. Advocates of testing as a "gatekeeper" argue that ability and achievement, rather than family background, class, or the specific advantages that might accrue to students in wealthy school districts, should govern the distribution of opportunities and rewards in society. Moreover, they add, this system of distribution creates incentives for school systems to provide their students with the best possible chances for success.

On the other hand, opponents contend that ability and achievement scores are highly correlated with socioeconomic background factors[7]  and with the quality of schooling children receive;[8]  under these circumstances, "...no assessment can be considered equitable for students if there has been differential opportunity to access the material upon which the assessment is based."[9] 

This debate will not be resolved easily or quickly; nor will it become moot with the advent of alternative methods of assessment. On the contrary, it could very well become even more heated and complex.[10] 



Notes

[1] Steven Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York, NY: Norton, 1981), dedication, p. 7.

[2] See, e.g., Carl Degler, In Search of Human Nature (London, England: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[3] Sheldon White, "Social Implications of IQ," The Myth of Measurability, Paul Houts (ed.) (New York, NY: Hart Publishing Co., 1977), p. 38. See also Clarence Karier, "Testing for Order and Control in the Liberal Corporate State," The IQ Controversy, N. Block and G. Dworkin (eds.) (New York, NY: Random House, 1976), pp. 339–373. Karier’s basic argument, as summarized by another historian of testing, was "...the tests...were biased in terms of social class, economic, cultural, and racial background. Their use in schools served to block opportunity for the lower classes and immigrants...[and fashion] a system of tracking in the schools that reinforced social inequality..." Paul Chapman, Schools as Sorters (New York, NY: New York University Press, 1988), p. 8. For opposing viewpoints see, e.g., Mark Snyderman and Stanley Rothman, The IQ Controversy (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1988); Arthur Jensen, Bias in Mental Testing (New York, NY: Free Press, 1980); or Richard Herstein, "IQ," Atlantic Monthly, vol. 228, September 1971, pp. 43–64.

[4] Donald Stewart, president, College Entrance Examination Board, "Thinking the Unthinkable: Standardized Testing and the Future of American Education," speech before the Columbus Metropolitan Club, Columbus, OH, Feb. 22, 1989.

[5] Monty Neill and Noe Medina, "Standardized Testing: Harmful to Educational Health," Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 70, No. 9, May 1989, p. 691.

[6] For discussion of test bias and the effects of testing on minority students, see e.g., Walter Haney, Boston College, "Testing and Minorities," draft monograph, January 1991, p. 24.

[7] See, e.g., Christopher Jencks et al. Inequality (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1972).

[8] See, e.g., Ronald Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 1991, pp. 465–498.

[9] Shirley Malcom, "Equity and Excellence Through Authentic Science Assessment," Science Assessment in the Service of Reform, Gerald Kulm and Shirley Malcom (eds.) (Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1991), p. 316. It is interesting to note that standardized test scores, viewed by some critics as blocking entry to education and work opportunities, have been used to justify major public programs to help minority and disadvantaged children: "...the preeminent example…was in the 1960s, when lower performance of minority and inner city children was used to bolster arguments for the war on poverty and to help propel passage of the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965..." (Haney, op. cit., footnote 7, p. 22.)

[10] Some minority educators, for example, fear that new assessment methods will stifle opportunities for minority students who have recently begun to do better on conventional tests. There is also uncertainty over whether or not tests should be used for placing children in remedial programs. Parents in California sued recently, not because their children were being tested but, on the contrary, because the State had followed the precedent set in the landmark Hobson v. Hansen case, and banned testing as a basis for diagnosing learning difficulties and placing children in remedial tracks. For further discussion of this and other legal issues, see ch. 2 [of source report].

 

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Footnotes

[11] National Center for Education Statistics, NELS:88, Data Analysis System, unpublished tabulation.

[12] Bridgeman, B., and C. Wendler. 1991. Gender differences in predictors of college mathematics performance and in college mathematics course grades. Journal of Educational Psychology , 83, 275–284.

Wainer, H., and L.S. Steinberg. 1992. Sex differences in performance on the mathematics section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test: A bidirectional validity study. Harvard Educational Review, 62, 323–336.


[13] The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program offers two levels of advanced placement examinations in calculus—calculus AB and calculus BC. Calculus BC covers more advanced topics than calculus AB.

[14] The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program offers two levels of advanced placement examinations in computer science—computer science A and computer science AB. Computer science AB covers more advanced topics than computer science A.

[15] California Proposition 209 is a California constitutional amendment that prohibits State and local agencies including public colleges and universities from using preferences based on race or gender. Hopwood v. Texas ruled that race may not be used as a factor in admissions, and the Texas Attorney General ruled that the ban must also include financial aid, recruiting, and undergraduate admissions.


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