Masking Education Fraud

Last week I reported that 73 percent of California State University's black college freshmen required remedial math and 66 percent required remedial English. In last week's speech to the American Council on Education, Richard C. Atkinson, President of the University of California system, called for the elimination of the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) requirement for students applying to the system's ten campuses.

The driving force behind Dr. Atkinson's proposal is the 1996 passage of California Civil Rights Initiative, popularly known as Proposition 209. Proposition 209, along with measures previously taken by the UC Board of Regents, banned the use of racial quotas and preferences in college admissions. Now that racial quotas and preferences have been eliminated, black enrollment is down at some UC campuses but up at others.

Dr. Atkinson charges that the SAT is unfair to blacks; others have charged that the test is culturally biased. Both charges are nonsense and are seen as such by asking: which of our racial groups is the most culturally distinct. Most likely the answer would be Asians (Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese). Now let me give you two group average scores for the verbal portion of the SAT (SATV). One racial group has an average of 499 and the other 431. The task for you is to guess which of these scores is the black score and which is the Asian score.

One might be able to argue that there are cultural influences on the SATV, after all we live in an American culture, but what about the math portion. Can one identify the cultural bias in questions asking a test taker to find the square root of a number or solve simultaneous equations? However, blacks average a lower score (425) on the math portion of the SAT, the portion least capable of cultural bias, than they do on the verbal (431) portion. By contrast, Asians score higher on the math portion of the SAT (565) than they do on the verbal (499). In fact, Asians outscore all test takers on the math portion of the SAT; whites place second scoring (530).

The purpose of the SAT is not to assess intelligence, ambition or the likelihood of success in life. The relatively narrow purpose of the test is to predict a student's class standing at the end of his freshman year and the SAT reliably does that. For blacks the SAT predicts a freshman class standing that's in fact higher than that actually achieved. Over predicting class standing can hardly be deemed as a bias against blacks.

Instead of SAT scores, Dr. Atkinson says, "[S]tudents should be judged on what they have accomplished during four years of high school, taking into account their opportunities." The very fact that so much remedial education is required for freshmen college students, particularly for black college freshmen, suggests that high school grades are often fraudulent and a poor predictor of whether a youngster can do college work.

Those who argue that the SAT is culturally biased or racially discriminatory do a great disservice to black students. It amounts to telling blacks that the reason they do poorly isn't because they're ill-prepared or weren't serious enough about high school work. Instead, students are told the questions are racist; hence, poor performance is not their fault.

If I believed in conspiracies, I'd see attempts to banish the SAT as a college admission tool as a part of the education establishment's on-going efforts to keep parents, students and the taxpaying public in the dark about the fraudulent quality of primary and secondary education. That way victims will be less clamorous for change and introduction of accountability standards.

Walter E. Williams
February 26, 2001
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