Will Eliminating Standard Tests Really Reduce Racial Disparities In Education?

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the announcement that the University of California will now join the “test-blind” movement and end the use of the SAT and ACT in its admissions decisions. Some have called for the change to increase diversity in the schools, particularly after California voters refused to change the long ban on affirmative action in education under state law.

Here is the column:

The Supreme Court will decide early next month whether to take a new case on the use of race in college admissions. For decades, the court has fractured on the issue and left an unintelligible morass. A challenge brought by Asian students at Harvard could bring clarity, including a possible rejection of the use of race as an admissions criterion.

However, the massive California university system has just taken an action that could make such challenges more difficult in the future. University of California President Janet Napolitano announced that the ten schools in the system will no longer base admissions on standardized tests — joining a “test-blind” admissions movement nationally.

Without standardized testing, it would be difficult to prove the weight given to race in admissions.

Advocates for greater diversity in admissions have long opposed the use of standardized tests as disfavoring minority applicants. Many have decried standardized testing as vehicles for white supremacy. Indeed, education officials like Alison Collins, vice president of the San Francisco Board of Education, have declared meritocracy itself to be racist.

Napolitano responded to such criticism with a Standardized Testing Task Force in 2019. Many people expected the task force to recommend the cessation of standardized testing. The task force did find that 59 percent of high school graduates were Latino, African-American or Native American but only 37 percent were admitted as UC freshman students. The Task Force did not find standardized testing to be unreliable or call for its abandonment, however.

Instead, its final report concluded that “At UC, test scores are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average (HSGPA), and about as good at predicting first-year retention, [University] GPA, and graduation.” Not only that, it found: “Further, the amount of variance in student outcomes explained by test scores has increased since 2007 … Test scores are predictive for all demographic groups and disciplines … In fact, test scores are better predictors of success for students who are Underrepresented Minority Students (URMs), who are first generation, or whose families are low-income.” In other words, test scores remain the best indicator for continued performance in college.

That clearly was not the result Napolitano or some others wanted. So, she simply announced a cessation of the use of such scores in admissions. The system will go from two years of “optional” testing to a “test-blind” system until or unless it develops its own test.

Ending standardized testing will have a notable impact on legal challenges to the use of race in college admissions. Last November, Californians rejected a resolution to restore affirmative action in college admissions.

The Supreme Court has issued a series of 5-4 decisions that have ruled both for and against such race criteria admissions — but even justices supporting such systems have expressed reservations. The author of the 2003 majority opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, said she expected “that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” That 25 years is about up.

Reports indicate that significant differences remain on such scores, particularly for Asian students. The Harvard Crimson reported that “Asian-American applicants to Harvard earned an average SAT score of 726. White applicants earned an average score of 713, Native American and Native Hawaiian applicants an average score of 658, Hispanic American applicants a score of 650, and African American applicants a score of 622.” Yet, during that same period, “Asian-Americans saw the lowest acceptance rate of any racial group.”

In Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, the litigants cite a study finding that Asian Americans needed SAT scores that were about 140 points higher than white students; the gap with admitted African American and Hispanic students is even greater.

The Supreme Court has allowed race to be considered in overall admission decisions, but has stressed that it cannot be used as a determinative or dominant factor. Judicial reviews, therefore, often focused on the objective standardized scores to deduce the weight given to race. Most of us agree that admissions should be based on a holistic review of applicants and not just their scores or GPA. This includes achieving greater demographic, socio-economic, racial and other forms of diversity. However, standardized scores remain highly valuable as objective comparisons of all applicants to guarantee a system based on meritocracy, including within such groups.

In the Harvard case, the scores are particularly important because the litigants allege that subjective factors were systemically used to disfavor them on issues such as likability and personality. While the lower courts ruled for Harvard, the trial judge did note that there may have been bias in favor of minority admissions and encouraged Harvard to deal with such “implicit bias” while monitoring “any significant race-related statistical disparities in the rating process.” But what if there are no “statistical disparities” because there are no objective statistics?

The elimination of scores has a pronounced impact on students. While it will likely allow for greater diversity in admissions, it also removes a way for students to distinguish themselves in actual testing of their knowledge of math, English and other subjects. Yes, there are other ways to distinguish themselves, like community service and high school projects. Yet, as found by the UC task force, these tests do have a predictive value on success. Indeed, at a time when the United States is losing ground on math and science, the elimination of such testing could undermine our competitive position in a global economy; countries like China demand high levels of objective performance in areas like math and science.

There is an alternative. Rather than eliminate standardized scores due to the disparity in performance of racial groups, we should focus on improving the performance of minority high school students in these areas.

Testing results reflect a continuing failure of our public schools. The top-spending public school districts are also some of the worst-performing districts. New York topped the per capita spending, at $24,040 per kid. Yet, according to a 2019 study, over half of New York City public school kids cannot handle basic math or English. On tests, Asian kids shows a 74.4 percent proficiency in math, with a 66.6 percent proficiency for whites, 33.2 percent proficiency for Hispanics and 28.2 percent proficiency for African Americans.

Eliminating standardized scores will not erase true racial disparities in our educational system. Indeed, it may only exacerbate them.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

124 thoughts on “Will Eliminating Standard Tests Really Reduce Racial Disparities In Education?”

  1. I’ll bet Egypt is ecstatic that the Israelite slaves were out of Egypt before the ink was dry on their release papers.

    Egypt hasn’t suffered for millennia, and doesn’t suffer now, a caterwauling, ineffectual and dependent minority which is relentlessly begging for “free stuff,” in all its multitudinous forms, including compulsory free social acceptance, free money, free food, free housing, free matriculation, free grade inflation, free hiring, free mortgage assistance, free healthcare insurance, free immunity from culpability, etc.

    The communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) in America have made Karl Marx proud.

    No freedom and self-reliance for them;

    simply class “untouchability,” dependence and entitlement.

    1. George, Egypt is a poor nation that has to worry if Egypt can put enough food on everyone’s table. Don’t you think that some might take a glance at the nation of Israel and, noting their success, say, ‘maybe we should have kept the Jews and let them become part of the educated class?

  2. It will dumb down our college education system. Currently the professors are heavily curving grades – imagine the curve after low achievers with low scores (and low motivation) are admitted. I graduated from one of the California State Universities (with honors) and when I was attending, our transcripts initially showed class grade. My math class, 40 students, average GPA 1.99. My geology class, 350 students, average GPA 2.01. And I always joke that the attendance at student club meetings (especially those with free food) was much greater than attendance in classes as some only showed up for tests.

    And now professors will be pushed to curve grades so that majority is not falling so the value of a Bachelor’s degree just went down to nothing.

    A way back I was surprised when I saw some low clerical job ads asking for Bachelor’s degree but my friend working in HR explained that to me. She said that candidates that graduated from high school cannot spell, cannot write, and lack many other basic skills required for the job. So I assume she will now be requiring a Master’s degree for an assistant or file clerk.

    The correct solution is, as Mr. Turley said, working with minorities to see why they lag behind and then designing a program to help them succeed. When we all work harder, sky is the limit and we can climb to the top. When we only want low achievers, we will hit the bottom.

    On another college subject, I asked one of the professors when I was in college why so many students dropped off classes, had to repeat classes; there was a policy at that time that student could repeat class 5 or 6 times. The professor told me that many students were foreigners on a student visa and as long as they were studying on their degree, they could stay in the USA, and sometimes there was no requirement for minimum grades, so they clogged the system for years to remain in the USA. I hope someone will one day look into that foreign student clog and find a solution so that American students that want to study are not waiting for registering for class forever because some low achiever foreigners are clogging the system.

    1. Colleges and universities in this country could not survive without the help of foreign student money as it now stands (except, of course, for the heavily endowed, like Ivy League, Big Ten, and Seven Sisters. Then students are DACA, and get free what your kids have to pay for, and the insidious system continues. When they graduate, foreign students take positions of power, and perpetuate the system.

  3. “It’s the [merit], stupid!”

    – James Carville

    “It’s the [American thesis], stupid!”

    – James Carville

    “It’s the [freedom], stupid!”

    – James Carville

    “It’s the [self-reliance], stupid!”

    – James Carville

    “It’s the [not race], stupid!”

    – James Carville

    “It’s the [not charity], stupid!”

    – James Carville

  4. As Thomas Sowell has long said, the tests convey information about disparities, they do not cause disparities. Eliminating the tests will not reduce the real disparities they reveal about Black performance. Several things could help reduce those disparities: (1) a decrease in the proportion of Black children who are not raised by two parents – it’s currently close to 70%; (2) greater exposure of Black children to words and books in their early years; (3) development of a culture in Black homes that prioritises education and eliminates the view that habits that promote success mean “acting white”; and (4) providing Black families without the means to pay for private education alternatives to failing urban schools, such as an expanded number of charter schools or vouchers. None of these is easy or fast, and the first three are largely beyond the reach of government. The fourth is opposed by Democrats, the educational establishment and the teachers unions, notwithstanding the demonstrated success of some charter schools in improving the performance of poor Black students. The current “Antiracism” craze promoted by these groups will not only distract from the kind of steps that are needed genuinely to develop human capital in the Black community, but will do great harm to society overall by promoting divisions, victim mentality and lower standards ultimately leading to lower effectiveness of the country as a whole.

    Moreover, eliminating the tests will likely increase the “mismatching” of Black students with colleges. This will mean that larger numbers of Black students will fail to graduate, or do less well than they otherwise would have at a college that better fit their abilities based on the predictive power of tests. When California eliminated affirmative action, the number of Black and Hispanic students did not drop overall, though fewer may have gone to the very top colleges in the system. A higher percentage graduated, and a higher percentage graduated in STEM, likely resulting in better income generating prospects after college. This was due to the students being better matched to the colleges they attended, rather than being propelled into more elite colleges through affirmative action intended to create a certain image of diversity.

    1. Great points Daniel. The ignorant need to read Thomas Sowell.

      He also explains costs. Selecting the proper student involves cost. Standardized testing reduces some of the costs involved, because other types of screening involves huge amounts of costly labor.

      1. Yes. Sowell gives an interesting example. He says that employers who check criminal records are more likely, not less, to hire Blacks. The reason is the general perception of the higher crime rate among Blacks. A criminal record check is a low cost way to confirm that a specific applicant is not a criminal. When employers are precluded from doing this by laws banning criminal record checks, ironically because they are said to be racist, the costs of alternative means of checking out individual applicants are too high, so the impact of general perceptions is not counteracted, and fewer Blacks are hired.

        1. “, ironically because they are said to be racist, the costs of alternative means of checking out individual applicants are too high, so the impact of general perceptions is not counteracted, and fewer Blacks are hired.”

          Excellent Daniel. That, I believe, is one of the reasons the left fails with most if not all of their social programs. They are unable to use common sense and economic principles.

  5. Janet Napolitano knows America is competing economically with more meritocratic focused nations like China, Korea, etc. But we have a secret weapon that virtually guarantees America will continue to be the world’s economic powerhouse for years to come – our unwavering commitment to diversity.

    Hear, hear!

  6. It also helps to get more warm bodies enrolled when students are not as attracted to a particular institution.

  7. Why does everyone ignore the elephant in the room? Minorities must just be dumber so the bar is lowered. Lowering the bar does not advance society.

    1. If you Google “world IQ map” you will find a number of charts showing the average IQ in sub-Saharan Africa as ranging from 55 to 80. The highest recorded IQs are in Singapore, at 115. The average white IQ in the U.S. is 100; the average black is 85. Americans simply refuse to acknowledge what every knows – that the issue is IQ. In my county, children of illegal Hispanics who speak Spanish as their primary language score higher on ENGLISH tests than blacks who have been in this country for 300 years! Eliminating standardized tests will result in more wasted chairs at elite universities like Berkeley and UCLA. More minorities will graduate with crap degrees in African American Studies and other soft subjects, and fewer students will be there studying science and engineering.

      1. Tin, I am not comfortable with such firm ideas as to what the IQ represents. Today, most think Jews have a higher average IQ than most others, but Jews were supposed to have a very low IQ in the early twentieth century.

        1. Current IQ tests are obviously more accurate than those of the early 20th Century. That was a long, long time ago. IQ tests were given in English to recent European immigrants who didn’t read the language, which is why, for example, Polish immigrants were labeled as dumb. But testing as a scientific field has greatly developed since the days when the immigration agency and the Army simply gave everyone a test regardless of whether the circumstances would render an accurate result.

          1. Tin, I don’t know that the kids brought up in bad families can read the given English either or concentrate well enough if the test uses symbols and the like.

            What I do know is that in NYC, charter schools tremendously elevated the scores of black children. Unfortunately, the left doesn’t like it when blacks become educated, so the left purposely keeps the number of charter schools low.

            In any event, the actual difference in IQ scores, no matter who is taken them, becomes less meaningful when one considers many other things. Thomas Sowell was born in Harlem. He educated himself and today is one of the top intellectuals. Justice Clarence Thomas is another, as was Walter Williams before he died. I say to the left that they should give blacks a chance to excel, and they will.

      2. For years, we’ve had social engineers trying to change the “IQ” test, or substitute another test, or rewrite the test. The Multiple Intelligences Theories that came out of Harvard are part of that, and I’ve been as indoctrinated as anyone else. I’m tired worrying about it, and thought about my dying days when the kindness of some “dumb” person to raise water to my lips will be greatly appreciated.

  8. Affirmative action need not be affirmative discrimination: diversity [dogma] (i.e. color judgment), inequity, and exclusion.

    That said, diversity of individuals, minority of one. Baby Lives Matter

  9. This is a complicated subject. I entered an elite graduate program with a less than stellar entrance exam scores, but I had university transcripts, life experience, and evidence that I would excel in the program. It was a matter of bootstrapping my way out of a poor educational experience. I graduated in the top 20% of my class and was employed in my field and remain employed nearly thirty years later.

    I spent fifteen years working in accreditation of both university and university sponsored programs. I was on a team that accredited one of the colleges of the University of California. They met and excelled at achieving their mission, goals and objectives required by USDE. Their students were the top scorers in the national boards. They also addressed diversity, not by reaction but by careful and methodical recruitment of the brightest students, in early high school, from economically and ethnically challenged situations. This took years to develop. These students were not coddled but given academic support to seek higher education and a pathway to this graduate program.

    It is one thing to approach entrance into a program with creativity and an entirely different thing to have students graduate and pass all requirements to excel in their profession. If a university fails in this endeavor, they will lose accreditation.

    1. The elimination of test scores also bodes badly for low income (most often minority) students when they get admitted to universities and then fail because they were never a good college candidate to begin with. That will leave a now failed student with college debt they cannot afford to repay and in turn creates a serious problem for these young adults.

    2. One would hope university failure would cause accreditation loss, but alas, politics prevails. Personal motivation coupled with an institution’s support to help its students excel is the obvious solution, along with recruitment of the brightest and best. It works. Until absurd social engineering programs interrupt….what we have now is a disaster.

  10. I am reading “The Liberal Mind” by Dr. Lyle Rossiter, MD, which describes the Psychological Causes of Political Madness”…..and he very clearly illustrates the fallacies of the Leftist Agenda and the repercussions it has and shall cause.

    It requires one to actually think and consider carefully what he has to say….and when you do….even a dedicated Socialist who has any understanding of Human Nature and appreciation for the principles our Nation was founded upon…..will see the Leftist Movement in a much different light.

    He writes as a Conservative but is able to be objective when he examines the “Just Society” and related principles that are core values which have been corrupted by Government which sets the stage for advancement of the Liberal agenda which preys upon Human Nature to foist a skewed narrative upon the population.

    It is a book all of us should read….just as we read Voltaire and so many other writers even if we do not agree with them…..we ought to at least consider their views.

    I have read Mao, Che, Churchill, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Twain, Marx and so many others…..and do not limit my reading to the American Media and internet….something I know is out of fashion these days.

    Combine that with lots of travel and living in foreign countries while working overseas….from the bush in Africa to industrial nations like Italy and Spain….and the Middle East…and Southeast Asia.

    Education, reading, and life experiences tell me Socialism, Communism, and our Leftist Movement are exactly wrong horses to hitch one’s wagon to as they all deny the Human Spirit.

    Rossiter proves that in his psychological autopsy of the Liberal Mind.

  11. “Without standardized testing, it would be difficult to prove the weight given to race in admissions.”

    They are acting just like the Democrat segregationists did in the south. When the spotlight shined on them, they changed their appearance but not their racism.

      1. Actually if you look at the Congressional record you will see they didn’t.

        That is OK. You are keeping a clean record, being wrong all the time.


  12. Great idea. Let’s use the same idea to increase diversity in the NBA by not keeping score. Everyone will get a participation trophy.

  13. Can’t make the grades, eliminate the grades this will improve their performance for sure. Who will you hire to build your bridge, develop the next rocket, represent you or operate on you?

  14. You don’t create better field goalkickers by elimination of the goal posts. You create delusional players and incensed fans.

    1. This is why we hear “equity” as the new buzz word from the left. Does anyone want an “equity” pilot flying their plane or an “equity” surgeon performing their heart procedure?

  15. Putin and Trump…
    Laying in a bed.
    One rolled over to the other and said:
    Let’s stop. My fingers getting tired.

  16. Teachers should be tasked with making sure students know how to read, write, speak in standard English, and be able to do basic math. Too many teachers fail in this basic responsibility.

    1. Easy to blame teachers. What about what is not happening in the homes? Asian children do well, or much better than any other ethnic groups, because their parents instill a work ethic, and in a majority of the cases, are the driving force behind their success. Lowering the bar doesn’t work, as we have seen with the Baltimore school. The root of the problem begins in the home.

  17. I for one, am fully on board with eliminating testing standards at elite universities like Harvard.
    I think it would be great to see their graduation rates fall off a cliff.
    Of course they will just then eliminate grades all together, everyone gets to choose their own grades, 100% graduation rates!
    How will it look to Harvard when their grads cannot get jobs when the grads cannot communicate effectively, math, or do any of those job requirements the grads gave themselves A’s for?

    1. Do you honestly think harvard will allow students to fail? They will all graduate with something, harvard needs future donations.

    2. That’s the rub – because said grads will be the ones in charge of the ‘jobs’ as well, eventually, the goalposts for employment will be moved as well. Our society is on the precipice of perhaps being irreversibly dysfunctional. The older and more experienced will not be around forever to carry the load.

      We need to get over this notion of young people bumping into a ‘real world’ that has only existed because formerly there were plenty of people willing to create and maintain it as they had the knowledge and foresight to appreciate its value to *all* of free society. Without that intrinsic support, such realities of life cease to exist, and we are certainly headed that way, full bore.

      1. There is a name for the infinite move of the employment goalposts. Communism.

    3. Anyone admitted to Harvard and finishing is guaranteed a good job for life. Everybody knows that. The ticket. But it is a social ticket. Not a demonstration of academic achievement. It is the “network” pre-arranged.

      1. Not really. I know Ivy League grads with soft majors like Ethnic Studies, etc. who don’t get good jobs. In fact my former mailman was a Stanford grad; majored in Mexican-American studies. Nothing wrong with being a mail carrier, but one would expect more of a Stanford grad. The elite colleges admit students who can’t handle a rigorous a academic course, and then create soft majors in order to graduate them and keep the government funds flowing in. By contrast, my son-in-law immigrated at age 8 with his mother and sister from Ukraine. He was a latch key kid in a bad neighborhood and bad school district while his mother worked two jobs. He went to a mediocre state college in CA and majored in computer science. Graduated at 22 and began working for a major co for $80K. After a year they offered to pay his way to go back and get a master’s in cyber security. After that, they boosted him to $100,000, at 24 years old. So getting a degree in a marketable field will set you up in life much better than an Ivy League degree in a field that has no marketable value.

  18. I find this astounding. I hated standardized tests and performed better than expected. Still, they are useful indicators, especially given the extent of grade inflation seen in secondary schools. Completely eliminating those tests from the admission process will no doubt prove to be short sighted.

  19. Janet Napolitano is white supremacist. She thinks black people are too dumb to do well on standardized tests.

    1. Barnum I am white…I was born white…you are part of the great divide in the US…is Clearance Thomas dumb…I think he will go down in history as one of the best SCOTUS members…Dr. Ben Carson…Larry Elder…Candance Owens…George Washington Carver…color of skin is just color…I did not do very well on the ACT test but I still got into dental school…then got my masters degree and 2 certifications as a personal trainer…just hard work and tenacity…never give up…you can take the tests as many times as you like…if you don’t do well study for 6-12 months and take it again.

    2. They are to stupid and that is not, not the white race’s fault. If you talk to any teacher that has had the horrible and horrific misfortune of trying, trying to teach your garden-variety black male, black female, they will tell you just what is wrong with them. Their IQ is well below your garden-variety white student. Be it male or female.

      And their retention ability is almost nonexistent. Last but not least, the few blacks that can do good which are a tremendous exception to the rule, are verbally attacked 1st by the shit-for-brains ones for acting like whitey. Then if that doesn’t work just stop them, they will physically beat them up. Everything I just told you is 100% true regardless if you like it or not.

      Or agree with it or not. It comes from knowing retired Boomer teachers that entered teaching all bright eyed and liberal when young in either the Chicago school system or the Boston school system.

      And within about 5 years they went from one end of the spectrum to the other. They went from wanting to do as much as they could for the black student, to the point they found themselves if they would’ve stayed to put up with their idiotic antics, they would have done as much as they could to them. And not in a good way.

      Over a 30 year career they will be the first ones to tell you, like it or not, it takes a black teacher to be able to communicate, with them, and to them. And it’s the same way with the American Indian in the school systems in Wyoming here in Montana North Dakota South Dakota, etc.

      The white teacher can try all they want, to no avail. It takes a Indian teacher. The garden variety Indian and garden variety black, has a horrible shit-for-brains attitude, mentality. No matter how nice you are to them. I recommend you check out some readings that deal with statistics concerning your garden-variety black mentality. Go to https://gulfcoastcommentary.blogspot.com/2020/03/the-essential-gulfcoastcommentary.html

      1. I had a friend years ago who took a job as a substitute teacher in an Oakland high school while studying for the CPA exam. He told me that his black students responded to every disagreement, every dirty look, every accidental bump in the hallway, with a physical attack. One day he called with such astonishment that it made me laugh. He told me a student was sent to the principal’s office for his second beat-down of another student. (They got one free beat-down per day.) His mother was called to come get him. She showed up and immediately began pummeling him with her fists, knocking him out of his chair and continued to beat him on the floor. Basically, a primitive response to frustration. He told me the administration (all black) didn’t bother trying to educate them, in fact they told him to play the Free Willy movie during math. Just keep them in the room and from beating each other too badly. Some classrooms had to have security guards to keep order. He had several students, one was Vietnamese and the other Mexican, who were interested in learning so he worked with them. It was an eye-opening experience, that unless you’ve been there, you really have know idea how bad it is.

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