thinking democrat
Monday, March 14, 2005
  Dumbing Down the SAT....
This month, high school students, who are interested in attending college, will begin taking the so-called new improved SATs. The previous maximum score of 1600 has increased to 2400 on the new test. Now parents don't have the slightest chance of comparing their own past scores to the scores of their daughter or son. Not that they had a chance before this. The SAT has gone through so many changes that it no longer really measures aptitude or the ability to do college level work.

More than a decade ago, I attended a small weekly summer seminar at my alma mater. The University's Assistant Dean to the School of Education was also there. During one of the breaks, we got into a debate about the SATs. I took the position that the SATs had been adjusted to artificially raise the average scores and significantly raise lower scores. The very nice lady pretty much questioned my sanity. She pointed out that the University's admission standards had not changed and neither had the quality of incoming freshmen.

This conversation happened in the early 1990's. About a year later, I read an article covering how the attempt to make the SATs racially neutral may have increased the average score by as much as 30 points. None of this was accidental and the results were exactly what the educational establishment wanted. The reason for my early conclusion that the SATs had been bastardized was simple deductive reasoning. The scores, which had been dropping for over a decade, were suddenly increasing. Since the quality of education hadn't improved, the quality of the tests had to have declined.

Unfortunately, the SATs are only a part of a mountain of problems with our educational establishment. When faced with declining student achievement, their answer was to change the tests that measured achievement. If I had to summarize the main problem with education, it would be a switch in emphasis from the quality of education to the quantity of education. We are facing a philosophy of education committed to the system of education and not to the act of educating individual children or adults.

On June 6, 1991, there was a special or report on PBS or one of the other networks about the Maybel B. Wesley Elementary School in the Houston School System. The children were 95% minority students living in a crime and drug ridden area with an almost 100% poverty rate. They were also attending one of Houston's best performing schools. Students were doing work sometimes as much as two years above grade level. Test results placed these students in the top 25% of all Texas Schools.

You would think that the local educational community would be very interested in learning how this educational miracle had been achieved, so that it could be duplicated in other elementary schools within the district. You would be wrong. The Administration and the Superintendent of the Houston Schools attacked the Principal and the school for not conforming to their philosophy of education. At one point, they even sent investigators into a 1st Grade class, while it was in session, to search the room. They accused the teacher of helping the children cheat on district tests.

The Principal of this school was black and so were the majority of teachers. Their unforgivable crime was to use teaching methods some of them had experienced during their own education. In the case of the Principal, he had attended a Catholic Grade School. The school district, on the other hand, was more concerned about teaching methods than how well the children learned.

The real unforgivable crime here was the thought that minority students just couldn't excel and beat the socks off of the white kids in the suburban schools. If this were true, it could have destroyed the structure of the entire school system. And just think what it might have done to the entire philosophy of education in Texas. Racism, by any other name, still smells as foul.

tom joseph
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Location: Buffalo, New York

Warning: a thinking democrat! Defined as an objective advocate of democracy. Years ago, a close friend claimed he had finally figured me out. He said I was sometimes liberal and sometimes conservative, but that he hadn't been able to discover what it was that pushed me from one to the other. His answer to his own dilemma was, "You are an objective driven idealistic pragmatist." My answer to his conclusion was and still is, "maybe, maybe not." I have a degree in Education and have worked in the following fields: Banking, Consulting, Management, Manufacturing, Real Estate, Sales, Social Work, Transportation, or best summarized as anything that's a good challenge.

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