OCR recognizes that colleges and universities are under a lot of legal and political pressure to stop using racial and ethnic factors in admission," Clegg commented. "[In response,] the agency wants to intimidate colleges and universities to continue using these preferences." (Black Issues in Higher Education, 1999)
The National Association of Scholars, while raising doubts about the reasoning behind the OCR document titled "Nondiscrimination in High-Stakes Testing," pointed to what it believes is hypocrisy from higher education gurus who had previously undervalued the use of the test scores.
It goes without saying that these guidelines are outrageous," commented the association's president, Dr. Stephen H. Balch, in 1999. "But it's hard not to see this as the educational establishment's being hoisted by its own petard. (Black Issues in Higher Education, 1999)
For some time now," Balch continued in a statement released shortly after OCR began distributing the guidelines, "our best universities in particular have selectively waived the results of standardized tests for the sake of diversity, insisting in such cases that there were many ways of evaluating good students. Now that OCR is telling them to apply this approach uniformly, they reverse course and hold that admission tests are indispensable to weighing the abilities of college applicants. Very strange." (Black Issues in Higher Education, 1999)
In fact, a testing official commented at the time that the education department's guidelines focused on whether standardized tests place an unfair burden on women and minorities, but the department should be concerned about whether other criteria used in admissions decisions also have a disparate impact - indeed, a worthy challenge that endures to this day.
The outcomes in terms of tests are not going to address the inequities," observed Wayne Camara, executive director of research for the College Board. "The test is the lightening rod. The disparate performances on the tests are related to the disparate preparation" in elementary and secondary schools. (Black Issues in Higher Education, 1999)
According to a study in the Black Issues in Higher Education journal, "Camara also says that the Education Department should wait to release the new guidelines until after the revised Standards for Educational And Psychological Testing -- issued by the three research and education associations -- are revised and reissued this summer. The OCR guidelines, which are based in large part on the standards, will be irrelevant by then, Camara says." (Black Issues in Higher Education, 1999)
The SAT's Racial Bias - If This Test Didn't Work, What of NCLB and AYP?
Jacqueline Fleming's research drew quantitative attention to the fact that the SAT discriminates against African-American students. She was alarmed that African-Americans are faced with the threat of losing affirmative action as a legal vehicle for taking race and racial context into account. As her study dictates, "In education, [affirmative action's] removal would mean greater reliance on "objective" indices such as SAT scores. This article presents analyses which show that racial context influences the SAT's ability to predict Black students' collegiate success. First, SAT items are shown to denigrate the Black experience and demonstrate a bias toward science. Thereafter, the test's predictive validity is shown to depend on college racial environment, adjustment issues, gender, and Black identity factors. Thus, whereas the nation may do away with mandates that consider race and racial context, these forces continue to influence the performance and lives of Black students." (Fleming, 2000)
The consequences of losing affirmative action are tied directly to the effectiveness of standardized tests for the various minority groups - whether gender, racial, national or sexual orientation.
As Fleming notes, though our society should be colorblind, colorblindness has not characterized the experience of Black people in the United States. In fact, affirmative action is based on the recognition that in order to get beyond racism, we in this nation must first take race into account. It recognizes, for example, that African-Americans have been prevented from competing fairly by a series of strategies, including the denial of access to educational opportunity, and it resolves that these barriers be removed even if vestiges of educational disadvantage remain. (Fleming, 2000)
Abandoning affirmative action will undoubtedly equate to stricter reliance on objective indices like test scores, such as those for the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT - even in the face of top-notch colleges such as Holy Cross moving away from such standardized testing.
Fleming finds the subject of standardized testing, particularly the analysis of standardized test scores, fascinating - and quite disturbing with regard to its impact on minorities' futures. According to Fleming, "This is not just because testing has such a shady history, which it does. Note, for example, that the center stage of recent testing controversies has been monopolized by individuals who espouse hard-core racist ideologies (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). Nor is it because standardized tests have been used as tools of oppression, which they have. Nor again is it because testing is such a taboo subject, which it is. No, I am interested in standardized tests and testing because the subjects evoke so much emotion in U.S. social circles. By themselves, tests are generally valuable and, like competition, constitute a motivational vehicle for getting the best out of individuals. Yet the very word "test" usually elicits an emotional response among most Americans, who typically hate being tested." (Fleming, 2000)
The feeling of having to sit through a standardized test almost always strikes fear into the hearts of those who must sit through the challenge. People perceive tests through the lenses of their personal experiences and feelings-e.g., "I don't believe in the test because I didn't do well on it," or "I don't think tests are valid because they don't reflect my ability," or "Testing is a 'White' thing; it's what they do to us." Fleming suspects that these sentiments, though possessing a certain validity, also mask the fears and anxieties surrounding the tests. The challenge for a social scientist is to separate testing hysteria from testing validity. (Fleming, 2000) That, as Fleming argued in 2000, is where research comes in.
There is much credence to the belief that racism is inherent in standardized testing. The standardized testing idea has a racist history in both old Europe and the United States (Hirsch, 1981).
Particularly, standardized tests have been utilize to impede the social progress of Africans and African-Americans for at least two centuries. Gould (1996) provides a chilling account of early movements to measure mental capacities in such a way that Africans in Europe and African-Americans here in America would be almost guaranteed a spot at the bottom of the scale. (Gould, 1996)
In fact, Gould presents efforts to measure cranial capacity, size and weight of the brain, number of convolutions of the brain, ratio of the distance from front to back of the brain, placement of the foreamen magnum (the hole in the base of the skull), intelligence in general, and the G-factor (an estimate of general intelligence derived from factor analysis) in particular-concluding that all these measurements have been tainted by historical social prejudices. (Fleming, 2000)
Gould reanalyzed most of the data on which many of the "scientific" racist assumptions of Black inferiority have been based, and upon taking the most obvious corrections into account (e.g., sex of the skeleton, unreliability of the measuring instrument, or testing conditions), he found no significant racial differences in intelligence. (Gould, 1996)
According to Fleming's research, Gould was absolutely prescient: "Indeed, the point emphasized throughout his treatise is that intelligence is an abstract concept, defined by a series of scores on a set of measurements, then reified-that is, elevated to the level of a biological attribute and deigned to have its antecedents in the brain. In reality, he concludes, the concept is not at all rooted in biology but rather in the set of measurements chosen as the determinants of intelligence, and those determinants are by and large those on which Europeans, and specifically elite Europeans, excel. When the test results have not conformed to social prejudice-that is, when Blacks did not perform poorly or as poorly as intended -- the tests typically were altered and the incongruous theories discarded. One of the by-products of this dubious history is a general awareness among African-Americans, even if they do not know all the details, that standardized tests have been used against them. Often, African-Americans take this awareness into the testing situation." (Fleming, 2000)
The question must absolutely be posed in order to determine the effectiveness or viability of standardized testing with regard to NCLB and AYP: What do SAT scores measure?
There has long been debate about what the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, measures. Its developers claim that it measures neither intelligence, the mysterious G-factor, nor intellectual potential, but rather that it is specifically designed to predict college grades, especially in the freshman year - this is akin to the LSAT being a predictor of law school grades in first year, but in fact rarely correlates.