Friday, June 25, 2010

New research confirms SAT racism

An assortment of pencils manufactured by the Dixon Ticonderoga Company. From top to bottom: The eponymous Dixon Ticonderoga, model number 1388-2 HB Pencil manufactured In U.S.A. circa 2003 (no longer in production); the current (as of March 2010) version of the same pencil, model number 13882, manufactured in China; a current model 13882 pencil from Dixon's Mexico factory (note subtle differences in the yellow laquer finish, ferrule and branding); a Ticonderoga Renew Pencil (model 96220) which utilizes recycled tires in place of wood for its casing; and a Dixon Tri-Conderoga pencil (model 22500) with triangular barrel and rubberized finish. An acrylic ruler with inches displayed upright was placed underneath the pencils for a size reference.

If you’re reading this, you probably understand that the election of a black president does not negate the systematic racism against folks of African descent in the US did not erase systematic racism against black people in the US. Cops still feel quite free to commit random and unwarranted violence against young black women. The wealth gap between white and black folks has widened. And black students score significantly lower on the standardized test that can determine admission to college, the SAT.

According to Maria Veronica Santelices of the Catholic University of Chile and Mark Wilson of the University of California at Berkeley at the Harvard Educational Review:
[Our research] throws into question the validity of the test and, consequently, all decisions based on its results. All admissions decisions based exclusively or predominantly on SAT performance -- and therefore access to higher education institutions and subsequent job placement and professional success -- appear to be biased against the African American minority group and could be exposed to legal challenge.

This is not exactly new news - it’s a confirmation of earlier research by Roy Freedle of the Educational Testing Service also published in the Harvard Educational Review. The College Board, which administers the SAT, faced similar claims in 2003. The administrative body that also administers Advanced Placement tests has previously dismissed these claims by saying that “since black students are less likely than white students to attend well-financed, generously-staffed elementary and secondary schools, their scores lag... American society is unfair, but the SAT is fair.”

Yeah, because classism is the only real form of oppression, and it’s not tied to racism at all! Because the College Board is somehow completely exempt from the racist kyriarchy that implicates us all!

Their findings on the verbal section were particularly damning, showing once again that language matters and that academic discourse heavily favors whiteness:
[T]he easier verbal questions favored white students. [S]ome of the most difficult verbal questions favored black students. Freedle's theory about why this would be the case was that easier questions are likely reflected in the cultural expressions that are used commonly in the dominant (white) society, so white students have an edge based not on education or study skills or aptitude, but because they are most likely growing up around white people. The more difficult words are more likely to be learned, not just absorbed.
Tests and admission standards are a part of the cycle of racism in our country, and a reflection and cause for the continuing inequality and oppression in education and professional life that reward whiteness and ableist, classist measurements of intelligence.

1 comment:

  1. This is good work - it's frightening how difficult it is to get the admins of the tests to unpack their backpacks. :/

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