Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Liberal Fails the Test

By Gary Baker

As the SAT cheating scandal in Long Island continues to unfold, it is natural that people across the academic and ideological spectrum reflect on the causes and effects, and strive to determine the meaning of it all in a broader context. True to form, at least one liberal educator has deflected responsibility from the perpetrators to the system.

Rather than confront the challenges of personal ethics, Nicolaus Mills, professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, has determined that society is to blame. Characterizing the use of college entrance tests as “tyranny,” he all but dismisses the actions of those who hired others to take their examinations as an understandable result of a system that places too much emphasis on testing and not enough on a holistic evaluation of the students seeking entrance to college. In the typical liberal fashion, his analysis turns reason on its head, exchanging the definitions of success and failure to a laughable degree.

Addressing the history of college entrance exams, Mr. Mills notes that they were originally instituted for the purpose of finding worthy students away from the well-to-do areas that so long dominated college admissions, claiming that the current reliance corrupts that worthy cause. What he fails to acknowledge is that the tests have in a large degree accomplished that mission. Students across the nation take the tests annually, with superior achievers being identified from across the spectrum of wealth and geographical area. Many who would never have been admitted decades ago will find themselves welcomed with financial assistance and opportunities their parents and grandparents never dreamed of.

Alas, for Mr. Mills and his ilk, the results are a failure. Though the SAT and ACT have been used for decades as valuable, though imperfect, tools for matching students with appropriate colleges, that goal is no longer paramount for liberal educators. Until a test comes along that produces just the right mixture of accepted race and gender, than testing will be demonized, criticized, and dismissed wherever possible.

If Mr. Mills would truly like to reduce the pressure on college bound students to perform, than I would recommend that he push for the removal of the SAT bonus allotted to black and Hispanic students at many universities, which he cites as 310 and 150 points, respectively. As someone who has looked across the table at a college admissions officer, I know that’s a lot to overcome.

As for the tests themselves, they will continue to do what they were designed to do. They will measure the current level of math and reading achievement in college bound students and aid in gaging the potential for academic success at particular schools. As stated before, the assessment is not perfect, but it has been shown to be useful at finding those who cannot make it academically. Sadly, it appears as though it can also identify some who cannot make it ethically.

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