Reprinted from the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal
On March 28, 2022, Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stuart Schmidt, announced the school’s plans to restore standardized examination considerations in its undergraduate admissions process. A heavyweight against the self-destructive path of attacking merit and quality. Will more lawsuits follow? Or, is the MIT rebellion too short and too late?
In an 1813 letter to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson outlined his vision for the American genius – “a natural elite among men,” based on “quality and talent.” This republic of merit has separated the newly independent nation from the old world where artificial aristocracy “based on wealth and birth” hinders the common good. Jefferson defined the meaning of a merit-based education system that promotes democratic and efficient learning:
Establish a free school for reading, writing and general arithmetic in each ward; To provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools who may receive higher education in a district school at government expense; And from these district schools a certain number of the most promising subjects have to be selected which will be done in a university where all the useful sciences should be taught. In this way values and talents were to be found in every phase of life, and were fully prepared by education to defeat the competition of wealth and birth for the faith of the people.
Test-free movement in a historical context
Jim Crow has sought to defile the great proposition of school segregation, equality and eligibility, from slavery to race-based admissions under the law. Like previous liberal bargaining to classify students by race, the central focus of exam-free admissions is to focus on the individual’s immutable traits under the fashionable banner of social identity rather than observable academic performance. But in contrast to the historical race-based practices that were at the root of bigotry and racism, the arbitrators of “fair” college admissions in the modern era claim that they are fighting against the evil spirit of white supremacy, systemic inequality and structural racism.
Moving away from merit-based consideration began with the overall assessment model, which combines academic, non-academic and environmental factors to create a complete profile of the applicant. Harvard invented the model nearly a century ago to limit Jewish enrollment. But even after capturing measurable factors for the overall assessment, the ethnic composition of student organizations in selected U.S. colleges and universities is still not fully reflected in the general American population.
Thus many are leaning towards race-based positive measures to artificially drum up the enrollment of so-called minority students (URMs). Applicants with statistically significant academic gaps are admitted to the same new class. Again, this soft test of race-conscious admissions has failed to achieve the goal of racial diversity. Despite the broad-spectrum implementation of race-based confirmation actions, the share of URMs in elite organizations has declined since 1980.
Exemption from the test in the name of equity
Instead of going back to saying it wasn’t working, universities and colleges then decided that they must do more in the line of race awareness. In the summer of 2018, the University of Chicago led the way in “equalizing the playing field” by excluding SAT and ACT from its undergraduate admissions. As of March 31, 2022, more than 1,830 recognized higher education institutions in the United States are exam-optional, with 83 campuses exam-free. The new participant in the test-blind craze is the California State University (CSU) system, as its board of trustees recently voted unanimously to remove standardized exams to permanently “focus on equity”.
The existence of a racial academic achievement gap is often cited as the main reason: Average SAT scores by race are distributed as 1223 (Asian), 1114 (white), 978 (Hispanic), 933 (black), and 913 (American Indian). / Alaska Native). Fair Test, the leading non-profit organization that championes the test-free movement, claims that test-makers have a built-in cultural bias and that the test feeds the prison pipeline from the school. The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, argues that standardized tests are “instruments of racism and partisanship.”
Failing to explain why Asian Americans have the highest scores on the test, despite historical polarization and inter-group diversity, the notion of discrimination discriminates because the reason for the test discriminates. Equally ridiculous is the claim that high-stakes exams naturally put students of color at a disadvantage. Creating heterogeneous test scores as a symptom of racism is tantamount to arguing that gaps in other achievements in K-12 are direct results of racist institutions and practices. Again, the highest-editor group by aggregate data of high school graduation and college preparation is Asian-American students, 93 percent of whom graduated from high school in 2019 (89 percent compared to white students, 82 percent compared to Hispanic students, 80 percent to black students). And 75 percent were college-ready (compared to 57 percent white, 29 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent black). This information strongly refutes the “racist” thesis.
MIT’s recent decision to reinstate SAT and ACT emphasizes “equity”: “We believe in a necessity. [for testing] More equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy. “Competition to restore equity in its apolitical sense – a state of social organization that administers justice on an individual basis – empirical evidence from the University of California Standardized Testing Task Force Low-income students are pursuing their college dreams through exam routes. Ironically, the UC Task Force’s pro-exam advice was conveniently ignored by the UC Board of Regents, which decided to avoid ACT / SAT and other possible exams by the end of 2021. Options.
Now MIT stands in stark contrast to its counter-hegemonic, heterodox position on talent and equity, with most test-optional elites, including most Ivy League colleges.
Feedback loop and unintended consequences
Attacks on talent and standards are not without prey. Meet Victim # 1 – Hardworking students of Asian descent whose only “crime” is their race. Under the previous overall admissions regime, statistical evidence in high-profile cases, including SFFA v. Harvard, and eyewitness accounts of former admissions officers, show the systematic high standards and racial stereotypes imposed against Asian-American applicants.
Efforts to eliminate standardized exams exacerbate the problem: My preliminary data analysis of 12 high schools in the California Bay Area shows that majority-Asian schools have seen a sharp decline in student enrollment by UC Berkeley in the last three exam-free admissions cycles. Berkeley’s traditional Feeder School – Leinbrook High where Asian students accounted for 85 percent – for example, the Berkeley enrollment rate dropped from 29.8 percent in 2019 to 8.84 percent in 2020 and 5.98 percent in 2021. And the work of racial balance was done Regardless of the differences between math and reading in these high schools.
Although so-called low-representation students are usually hurt by academic discrepancies and soft orthodoxy of low expectations, the system itself is sometimes reversed. Detailed investigation by New Yorker A story about a University of Pennsylvania convicting a student for reporting his “first-generation”, “low-income” status “incorrectly” reveals flaws inherent in an identity-based approach to talent selection and rewarding. A big victim exists at the institutional level, where a decline in national academic performance will lead to a further deterioration of the all-encompassing, quality-free system.
According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ratings, the United States ranks # 25 out of 80 countries and has an average math score of # 37 in 2018, based on the academic performance of 15-year-old students in math, science and reading. The American Association for the Advancement of Science reports that only 16 percent of its members consider the quality of American K-12 STEM education above average. Finding a large portion of a compressed pie is a fool’s errand. MIT, America’s top college for science and technology education, understands this.
The fundamental problem with test-blind paradigm shift is the assumption that higher education institutions can be effective agents of change in curing complex policies and cultural problems inherent in K-12 and larger societies. In other words, proponents of test-blindness have intentional thinking that reducing or eliminating standards can somehow miraculously improve reading, writing, math, and STEM skills in low-performing students.
When my college town was almost destroyed in the 7.9 magnitude earthquake, when I went to Chongqing on a 5-hour train to take the entrance exams for most American undergraduate schools, the last thing on my mind was to find out and be offended by a question that respects my culture. No. I scored 112 out of 120, without private tutoring and only with hand-me-down exam practice books. My trivial story is of the millions of seas that try to transcend their human limitations and work hard to move forward in a system that defines their self-worth as “virtue and talent” rather than “wealth (or lack thereof)”. . ” Perhaps the solution to our current waterlogging is hidden the whole time in plain sight – embrace values and return to merit-based admissions. MIT gets it and should follow further.