Archives for category: Higher Education

Under the dictator Pinochet, Chile became devoted to the free-market theories of libertarian economist Milton Friedman. It adopted a voucher system and embrace choice.

Over the years, the schools experienced growing social segregation and little or no improvement.

A vigorous and outraged student movement in Chile demanded changes.

Just today, a news story appeared saying that Chile intends to end public subsidies for private schools. (Oddly enough, the story is from Shanghai!)

We will keep watch on this breaking story.

The story says:

Chilean Education Minister Nicolas Eyzaguirre Thursday reaffirmed the government’s commitment to ending private education.”The pursuit of profit is not a good objective for educational institutions. It is not a good ally of a good education,” Eyzaguirre told a press conference.

The administration of President Michelle Bachelet, who took office in March, has proposed an ambitious overhaul of the education system to provide affordable, quality education, as demanded by a national student movement launched in 2011.

The government’s proposed reforms basically call for greater public spending on education, free primary education, and an end to state-subsidies of private schools and to profit-oriented universities.

“The state needs to withdraw from many productive activities, but not those that are considered a social right,” said Eyzaguirre.

The current educational system, which was increasingly privatized by the previous pro-business administration, creates more tension between the nation’s privileged and working classes, the minister said.

State support for universities will have to be phased in slowly, the minister indicated, as many of the centers of higher education have not been certified.

“We can’t be throwing around public money without ensuring quality,” he said.

To finance the education reform, Bachelet has proposed increasing the corporate tax rate from 20 percent to 25 percent, an initiative opposed by the business and conservative political sector, but expected to be adopted by the country’s legislature.



Jon Zimmerman is a colleague of mine at New York University and a fellow historian of education. He uses his deep knowledge of history to write on many topics. He is amazingly prolific.

Zimmerman writes:


April 16, 2014

Brandeis Betrays its Educational Mission

Jonathan Zimmerman

In 1949, Wayne State University president David Henry blocked an invited speaker from appearing on campus. The speaker was Herbert Phillips, a well-known philosophy professor. And the reason was simple: Phillips was a Communist.

“It is now clear that the Communist is to be regarded not as an ordinary citizen but as an enemy of national welfare,” Henry explained. “I cannot believe that the university is under any obligation in the name of education, to give him an audience.”

I thought of this episode—and many similar ones–as I read about Brandeis University’s decision to withdraw its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the prominent women’s rights activist who was slated to appear at its commencement exercises in May. Citing Ali’s controversial remarks about Islam, Brandeis said these comments were “inconsistent” with its “core values.”

But the core value of the university is—or should be—open dialogue and discussion. And it was Brandeis—not Ali—who who violated it, just as universities did by keeping out Communist and other left-leaning speakers during the McCarthy era.

A Somalian native who fled a forced marriage, Ali moved to Holland and was eventually elected to its Parliament. She also wrote the screenplay for a 2004 film about the treatment of Muslim women, which earned her death threats and led her to move to the United States.

And in a 2007 interview, Ali called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”; later that year, she told another interviewer that “there is no moderate Islam” and that it must be “defeated.”

Over the top? Definitely. Offensive? I think so. But Ali’s comments hardly put her in the same category as Nazis or white supremacists, as several critics have recently charged. Unlike fascist ideologues, who stressed the second-class status of women and their duty to reproduce for the fatherland, Ali has spent her life fighting for female independence and equality.

She has also been at the center of an ongoing debate about the degree to which Islam has enhanced or inhibited women’s rights. I was appalled by her blanket condemnation of the religion, which contains much more diversity than Ali allowed. But she has raised utterly legitimate questions, and the university should be in the business of exploring rather than quashing them.

Ditto for Communists in the 1940s and 1950s, who raised tough issues about the morality of capitalism and its role in promoting imperialism. Some American Communists went to absurd lengths in apologizing for murderous behavior by the Soviet Union, to be sure, and a small number of them actually spied for the USSR. But they also had important things to say about economic and international affairs, if Americans cared to listen.

At nearly all of our colleges and universities, they didn’t. Communist novelist Howard Fast was banned from speaking at Columbia and at my own institution, New York University. Likewise, the German Communist Gerhart Eisler was barred from the University of Michigan and several other schools.

And it wasn’t just Communists who were kept out; so was anyone suspected of sympathizing with them. So Miner Teachers College—a historically black school in Washington, D.C.—blocked the writer Pearl Buck from speaking; another teachers’ college in California banned Carey McWilliams, editor of the Nation; and Ohio State University turned away Cecil Hinshaw, a leading Quaker pacifist.

Each situation was different, but the rationale was always the same: Communists (and their “fellow travelers”) were supposedly inimical to the essential mission of the institution. And it’s also what protesters at Notre Dame said in 2009, when the university tapped President Obama as its graduation speaker.

Over 300,000 people signed a petition urging Notre Dame to revoke the invitation to Obama, a long-standing supporter of abortion rights. In hosting the President, the petition said, the institution was “betraying its Catholic mission.”

But turning away Obama would have betrayed the university’s academic mission: to promote dialogue and understanding across our myriad differences. Fortunately, Notre Dame held firm to its invitation. Obama gave his address, and hundreds of graduates demonstrated their opposition to his abortion views by affixing pictures of baby feet to their motor boards.

That brings us back to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who won’t have the opportunity to address the Brandeis graduation next month. More to the point, though, students won’t have the chance to challenge and debate her. That’s the core value of the university, and also of a liberal society. Too bad that Brandies—and its avowedly liberal defenders—seem to have forgotten it.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University. His most recent book is “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

How strange that a university founded by Jewish philanthropists would offer an honorary degree to a woman who fights for gender equality and then withdraw its offer because protestors said she was “Islamophobic.”




Here’s What I Would Have Said at Brandeis
We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking.



April 10, 2014 6:38 p.m. ET
On Tuesday, after protests by students, faculty and outside groups, Brandeis University revoked its invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree at its commencement ceremonies in May. The protesters accused Ms. Hirsi Ali, an advocate for the rights of women and girls, of being “Islamophobic.” Here is an abridged version of the remarks she planned to deliver.


One year ago, the city and suburbs of Boston were still in mourning. Families who only weeks earlier had children and siblings to hug were left with only photographs and memories. Still others were hovering over bedsides, watching as young men, women, and children endured painful surgeries and permanent disfiguration. All because two brothers, radicalized by jihadist websites, decided to place homemade bombs in backpacks near the finish line of one of the most prominent events in American sports, the Boston Marathon.
All of you in the Class of 2014 will never forget that day and the days that followed. You will never forget when you heard the news, where you were, or what you were doing. And when you return here, 10, 15 or 25 years from now, you will be reminded of it. The bombs exploded just 10 miles from this campus.
I read an article recently that said many adults don’t remember much from before the age of 8. That means some of your earliest childhood memories may well be of that September morning simply known as “9/11.”


You deserve better memories than 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing. And you are not the only ones. In Syria, at least 120,000 people have been killed, not simply in battle, but in wholesale massacres, in a civil war that is increasingly waged across a sectarian divide. Violence is escalating in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Libya, in Egypt. And far more than was the case when you were born, organized violence in the world today is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world.


Another striking feature of the countries I have just named, and of the Middle East generally, is that violence against women is also increasing. In Saudi Arabia, there has been a noticeable rise in the practice of female genital mutilation. In Egypt, 99% of women report being sexually harassed and up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day.


Especially troubling is the way the status of women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage. That same law would give a husband the right to deny his wife permission to leave the house.


Sadly, the list could go on. I hope I speak for many when I say that this is not the world that my generation meant to bequeath yours. When you were born, the West was jubilant, having defeated Soviet communism. An international coalition had forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The next mission for American armed forces would be famine relief in my homeland of Somalia. There was no Department of Homeland Security, and few Americans talked about terrorism.


Two decades ago, not even the bleakest pessimist would have anticipated all that has gone wrong in the part of world where I grew up. After so many victories for feminism in the West, no one would have predicted that women’s basic human rights would actually be reduced in so many countries as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.
Today, however, I am going to predict a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction.


When I see millions of women in Afghanistan defying threats from the Taliban and lining up to vote; when I see women in Saudi Arabia defying an absurd ban on female driving; and when I see Tunisian women celebrating the conviction of a group of policemen for a heinous gang rape, I feel more optimistic than I did a few years ago. The misnamed Arab Spring has been a revolution full of disappointments. But I believe it has created an opportunity for traditional forms of authority—including patriarchal authority—to be challenged, and even for the religious justifications for the oppression of women to be questioned.


Yet for that opportunity to be fulfilled, we in the West must provide the right kind of encouragement. Just as the city of Boston was once the cradle of a new ideal of liberty, we need to return to our roots by becoming once again a beacon of free thought and civility for the 21st century. When there is injustice, we need to speak out, not simply with condemnation, but with concrete actions.


One of the best places to do that is in our institutions of higher learning. We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged. I’m used to being shouted down on campuses, so I am grateful for the opportunity to address you today. I do not expect all of you to agree with me, but I very much appreciate your willingness to listen.


I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.


The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.

So I ask: Is the concept of holy war compatible with our ideal of religious toleration? Is it blasphemy—punishable by death—to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era? Both Christianity and Judaism have had their eras of reform. I would argue that the time has come for a Muslim Reformation.


Is such an argument inadmissible? It surely should not be at a university that was founded in the wake of the Holocaust, at a time when many American universities still imposed quotas on Jews.


The motto of Brandeis University is “Truth even unto its innermost parts.” That is my motto too. For it is only through truth, unsparing truth, that your generation can hope to do better than mine in the struggle for peace, freedom and equality of the sexes.


Ms. Hirsi Ali is the author of “Nomad: My Journey from Islam to America” (Free Press, 2010). She is a fellow at the Belfer Center of Harvard’s Kennedy School and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


Valerie Strauss posts here a hilarious explanation of the college admissions process, as devised by those witty folks at the Onion.

The Onion would have a hard time satirizing the education “reform” movement of our time, where every day is April Fools’ Day.

Steven R. Cohen, the superintendent of the Shoreham-Wading River School District in Long Island, is unimpressed by the changes to the SAT.

They will still strike fear and terror in the hearts of students.

They will still be arbiters of access to higher education.

They will still be graded and normed on a bell curve, so that the same proportion of students are at the top and at the bottom.

They will no longer include an essay section.

They will be aligned with the Common Core, no surprise since David Coleman, president of the College Board (which sponsors the SAT), was “architect” of the Common Core standards.

He writes:

Among other things, Mr. Coleman tells us that to teach these important standards properly, students must have considerable time to read and re-read texts, time to discuss the words and sentences used in the text, time to write about the meaning of the words in the text and time to edit what they write. One problem with the “new” and “fairer” SAT is that it uses multiple-choice questions to assess whether students understand the meaning of words in texts instead of having students write about such meanings — the skill Mr. Coleman insists is the signature skill of the Common Core. To make matters worse, the new SAT has a writing section but it is optional. So the “new” and “fairer” SAT, one that will reflect what actually goes on in high school classrooms, will not, in fact, adhere to the new Common Core State Standards as described by the very person who created both.

Superintendent Cohen concludes:

….according to Mr. Coleman and the state Board of Regents, the “new” and “fairer” SAT is oriented to higher, better standards that will prepare students to be “college and career ready.” Common Core State Standards, we are told, are also a complete set of standards, in addition to being better. However, if one looks at assessments used by some of the most renowned universities in the world — schools like Oxford University in England — one finds that they adhere to standards ignored by “higher” Common Core State Standards. For example, if one wanted to study, say, history at Oxford, one would have to take a test that assesses not only clear and precise writing via a real writing test; the content would have to demonstrate what Oxford calls “historical imagination” as well as “originality.” Nowhere in our new, vaunted Common Core State Standards are teachers told to be concerned with nurturing young people’s imaginations or their original thoughts about the books they read, about the way nature works, about whether our government’s policies are good or bad, about whether the Pythagorean theorem could be used to help design a better bridge over the Hudson river, or whether “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Nor will the “new” and “fairer” SAT ask students to write about such matters.

The “new” and “fairer” SAT is neither. And the Common Core State Standards assessed by this new test do not include, contrary to what many seem to believe, nurturing young people’s imaginations or originality: yet another instance of the profound cynicism of contemporary education “reform.”

Big data will open the way to the future of education, says
the CEO of Knewton.


The company is piloting its products at Arizona
State University. Whatever we used to call education will cease to
exist. Big data will change everything.


“The so-called Big Data movement, which has been largely co-opted by the for-profit
education industry, will serve as “a portal to fundamental change
in how education research happens, how learning is measured, and
the way various credentials are measured and integrated into hiring
markets,” says Mitchell Stevens, an associate professor of
education at Stanford University. “Who is at the table making
decisions about these things,” he says, “is also up for grabs.”


Want to know the future? Watch Knewton: “Big Data stands to play an
increasingly prominent role in the way college will work in the
future. The Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University
has been demonstrating the effectiveness of autonomous teaching
software for years. Major educational publishers such as Pearson,
McGraw-Hill, Wiley & Sons and Cengage Learning have long
been transposing their textbook content on to dynamic online
platforms that are equipped to collect data from students that are
interacting with it. Huge infrastructural software vendors such as
Blackboard and Ellucian have invested in analytics tools that aim
to predict student success based on data logged by their client
universities’ enterprise software systems. And the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation has marshaled its outsize influence in
higher education to promote the use of data to measure and improve
student learning outcomes, both online and in traditional
classrooms. “But of all the players looking to ride the data wave
into higher education, Knewton stands out.”


Read more:

Inside Higher Ed

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the Florida “Brighter Choice” scholarship program, whose criteria were changed in a way that has a disparate impact on black and Hispanic students.

The Miami Herald reports:

“Since the program’s inception, an outsized share of more than $4 billion in scholarships has gone to white or affluent families, at least some of whom were wealthy enough to afford college without any help. In recent years, state lawmakers — concerned about rising costs of the program — changed the standards to make the scholarships even harder to get, raising the minimum SAT and ACT test scores to levels critics charge will only further exclude poor and minority students….

“Similar allegations resurfaced in a public way last spring after a University of South Florida analysis predicted that the new Bright Futures standards would benefit far fewer students — the total number of college freshmen getting scholarships at state universities would drop by about half, from 30,954 to 15,711. The analysis predicted Hispanic students would see a 60 percent drop in scholarships, and black scholarship recipients would plummet by more than 75 percent.

“Of all large counties, Miami-Dade takes the biggest hit from the new criteria. Yet the Legislature’s Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, dominated by Republicans from Miami-Dade, has generally supported the revisions.

“At Florida International University, where about three-quarters of students are black or Hispanic, the percentage of incoming freshman qualifying for Bright Futures was once as high as 81 percent. This coming fall, under the new minimum SAT score of 1170, FIU expects only about 14 percent of freshmen to qualify.

“Luisa Havens, FIU’s vice president for enrollment, called it “silly and counterproductive” for the state to place financial obstacles in front of students who want to go to college. The Bright Futures cutbacks are happening at the same time Florida leaders publicly say they want to boost the number of residents with college degrees and make college more affordable.

“Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the harm being inflicted on minority students is “shameful.”…..

“The most significant impact is the poor and minority high school students who, just a couple of years ago, would have had a far greater opportunity of entering college,” he said. “Now, it’s undermined.”

“Bright Futures is funded by the Florida Lottery, which while immensely profitable couldn’t keep up with the growth of the program during the last decade. In 1997, Bright Futures’ first year, the lottery funded $75 million in the scholarships. By 2008, that amount had exploded to $435 million.

“When the costs became too great, the state slashed the value of the scholarships and then cut funding and reduced the number of awards by hiking standards. This year, the Florida Department of Education budget calls for $271 million in Bright Futures funds, reflecting cuts of $38 million and 18,000 scholarships from last year.

“Critics point out an irony in the cuts and changes: Although the lottery is most heavily played by minorities and the poor, they are less likely to benefit from the scholarship program.

“Some who want the program reformed argue a better way to screen applicants is with a “sliding scale” that combines GPA and test scores. In that system, a student with test scores slightly below the cutoff would still qualify if their GPA was very strong.

“Both college administrators and the College Board acknowledge that it is high school performance, and not standardized test scores, that is the best predictor of college success.

“But instead of changing Bright Futures’ minimum 3.0 GPA, Florida lawmakers chose to significantly raise qualifying test marks — from a minimum of 970 three years ago to 1170 now on the SAT. The average Florida combined SAT score was about 982 last year.

“Legislative leaders also have dismissed including a means test that could reduce or restrict scholarships to students from the wealthiest families….

“But in Florida education circles, testing has become the preferred method of evaluating public schools, teachers, and — in the case of Bright Futures — scholarship applicants. Schaeffer said Miami-Dade’s Hispanic Republican lawmakers are wedded to the test philosophy, even in an instance when their constituents suffer the most.

“They are Jeb Bush Republicans,” Schaeffer said. “Jeb Bush is one of the strongest believers nationally in the role of test scores in defining education quality. To come out otherwise would be an insult to their mentor.”

Read more here:

A major new study by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) looked at the college performance of eight cohorts of students from 33 colleges and universities. These 33 institutions do not require students to submit standardized test scores for admission. Like many previous studies, this one found that high school grades are better predictors of college success than scores on college entry examinations like the SAT or ACT.

The bottom line: Colleges and universities can learn more about future students by reviewing their four-year record of persistence and achievement rather than the results of an arbitrary test offered on one day, particularly one where some students have the means to pay for tutors to boost their scores. Colleges and universities do not need admission test scores to know which students are likely to succeed. The entry exams tend to have a disparate and negative impact on the neediest students. They are an unworthy gatekeeper. They waste the time, effort, and money of students. They benefit the testing corporations and the test prep industry, not students who hope to gain entrance to of institutions of higher education.

Here is the abstract of that study:

“This study examines the outcomes of optional standardized testing policies in the Admissions offices at 33 public and private colleges and universities, based on cumulative GPA and graduation rates. The study also examines which students are more likely to make use of an optional testing policy, and how optional testing policies can offer important enrollment and financial planning benefits. Four cohorts of institutions are examined: twenty private colleges and universities, six public universities, five minority- serving institutions and two arts institutions, with a total of just under 123,000 student and alumni records. Few significant differences between submitters and non-submitters of testing were observed in Cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, despite significant differences in SAT/ACT scores. Optional testing policies also help build broader access to higher education: non-submitters are more likely to be first-generation-to-college students, minorities, Pell Grant recipients, women and students with Learning Differences.”

Here is the summary:

“Previous research on standardized testing in admissions has examined the predictive value of testing and its fairness across widely differing pools of students. For over thirty years but increasingly in the last decade, hundreds of institutions have made admissions testing optional. This three-year study is the first major published research to evaluate optional testing policies in depth and across institutional types.

“With various forms of optional testing policies, the thirty-three colleges and universities in this study make admissions decisions without standardized testing as a credential for all students. Deliberately, the study reaches beyond the various “top 25” or “most competitive” lists. We include institutions in four categories: twenty private colleges and universities, six public universities, five minority-serving institutions, and two arts institutions, a total of approximately 123,000 student records at institutions with enrollments from 50,000 students to 350, located in twenty-two US states and territories. They vary widely, from a large scientific and technical university to a Native American college, from traditional liberal arts colleges and universities to fine arts/design institutions to urban and rural minority-serving institutions. We tried to ask, “Who is doing the heavy lifting, serving broad constituencies? Who is exploring the breadth of human intellect and promise in imaginative ways? Who is reaching out to serve students most desperately in need of access to higher education?”

“A fundamental question is: “Are college admissions decisions reliable for students who are admitted without SAT or ACT scores?” Many national educational research and philanthropic organizations such as the Lumina Foundation have presented findings to demonstrate that America will need to find successful paths to higher education for hundreds of thousands of additional first-generation-to-college, minority, immigrant and rural students, in order to grow America’s economy and social stability. This study provides the research support for optional testing as at least one route by which that can happen.

“Test scores contribute to college guidebook rankings. Perhaps equally important is self- selection by students who do not apply to colleges based on perceptions of testing or on advice from their high schools or parents. The National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) “Report on the Commission on the Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admissions” urged colleges and universities to “take back the conversation” about testing from the various groups for whom testing was either a profession or a cause. i This study is a contribution to that discussion.

“Does standardized testing produce valuable predictive results, or does it artificially truncate the pools of applicants who would succeed if they could be encouraged to apply? At least based on this study, it is far more the latter. In a wide variety of settings, non- submitters are out-performing their standardized testing. Others may raise the more complex issues of test bias, but we are asking a much simpler and more direct question: if students have an option to have their admissions decisions made without test scores, how well do these students succeed, as measured by cumulative GPAs and graduation rates?”

Here is a summary of the findings:

“With approximately 30% of the students admitted as non-submitters over a maximum of eight cohort years, there are no significant differences in either Cumulative GPA or graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters. Across the study, non-submitters (not including the public university students with above-average testing, to focus on the students with below-average testing who are beneficiaries of an optional testing policy) earned Cumulative GPAs that were only .05 lower than submitters, 2.83 versus 2.88. The difference in their graduation rates was .6%. With almost 123,00 students at 33 widely differing institutions, the differences between submitters and non-submitters are five one-hundredths of a GPA point, and six-tenths of one percent in graduation rates. By any standard, these are trivial differences.

“• College and university Cumulative GPAs closely track high school GPAs, despite wide variations in testing. Students with strong HSGPAs generally perform well in college, despite modest or low testing. In contrast, students with weak HSGPAs earn lower college Cum GPAs and graduate at lower rates, even with markedly stronger testing. A clear message: hard work and good grades in high school matter, and they matter a lot.

“• Non-submitters are more likely to be first-generation-to-college enrollees, all categories of minority students, women, Pell Grant recipients, and students with Learning Differences (LD). But across institutional types, white students also use optional testing policies at rates within low single digits of the averages, so the policies have broad appeal across ethnic groups.

“• Non-submitters support successful enrollment planning in a broad range of ways. They apply Early Decision at higher rates, increase enrollments by minority students, expand geographic appeal by enrolling at colleges far from their homes, and allow for success by Learning Difference students.

“• In a surprise finding, non-submitters display a distinct two-tail or bimodal curve of family financial capacity. First-generation, minority and Pell-recipient students will need financial aid support, but large pools of students not qualifying for or not requesting financial aid help balance institutional budgets.

“• Non-submitters may commonly be missed in consideration for no-need merit financial awards, despite better Cum GPAs and markedly higher graduation rates than the submitters who receive merit awards. Institutions may want to examine their criteria for merit awards, especially the use of standardized testing to qualify students for no-need merit funding.”

In a scathing essay in TIME magazine, Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, lacerates the SAT.

The recently announced changes, he writes, are “too little, too late,” and are motivated mainly by the competition between the SAT and the ACT, which now tests more students than the SAT.

What Botstein makes clear is that the hoops and hurdles of the SAT are archaic and have little, if anything, to do with being well prepared for college.

He writes:

The SAT needs to be abandoned and replaced. The SAT has a status as a reliable measure of college readiness it does not deserve. The College Board has successfully marketed its exams to parents, students, colleges and universities as arbiters of educational standards. The nation actually needs fewer such exam schemes; they damage the high school curriculum and terrify both students and parents.

The blunt fact is that the SAT has never been a good predictor of academic achievement in college. High school grades adjusted to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates are. The essential mechanism of the SAT, the multiple choice test question, is a bizarre relic of long outdated twentieth century social scientific assumptions and strategies. As every adult recognizes, knowing something or how to do something in real life is never defined by being able to choose a “right” answer from a set of possible answers (some of them intentionally misleading) put forward by faceless test designers who are rarely eminent experts. No scientist, engineer, writer, psychologist, artist, or physician—and certainly no scholar, and therefore no serious university faculty member—pursues his or her vocation by getting right answers from a set of prescribed alternatives that trivialize complexity and ambiguity.

The testing “experts” who write questions for the College Board or for Pearson or for McGraw Hill or for any of the other testing giants are seldom (if ever) scholars. The review process for the questions and answers is highly bureaucratic. And the scoring of the essays–which will now be abandoned on the SAT–are often done by people hired from Craig’s List and working for $11 an hour (or less). To learn more about the unsavory practices of the testing industry, read Todd Farley’s Making the Grades, which tells the sad story of the fifteen years he spent in that particular line of work.

Botstein goes on to criticize the value of the SAT:

First, despite the changes, these tests remain divorced from what is taught in high school and what ought to be taught in high school. Second, the test taker never really finds out whether he or she got any answer right or wrong and why. No baseball coach would train a team by accumulating an aggregate comparative numerical score of errors and well executed plays by each player, rating them, and then send them the results weeks later. When an error is committed it is immediately noted; the reasons are explained and the coach, at a moment in time close to the event, seeks to train the player how not to do it again.

What purpose is served by putting young people through an ordeal from which they learn nothing?

He ends on a hopeful note:

The time has come for colleges and universities to join together with the most innovative software designers to fundamentally reinvent a college entrance examination system.

I do not share his optimism. Since everyone, including David Coleman, the president of the College Board, agrees that high school grades say more about a student’s readiness for college than a one-shot college entrance examination, I doubt that even our most innovative software designers can come up with an examination that will mean more than reviewing students’ transcripts and other evidence of what they studied and how they showed their interests and commitments during their time in high school.

Competition to get into a prestigious college has grown incredibly fierce; going to the “right” college is seen as the key to a high-status occupation; the SAT and the ACT are not likely to give up their role as gatekeepers for these institutions; and as we know from ample research, the students who lose in this competition are those whose families lack the income, the connections, and the social status to compete. We are indeed in a testing quagmire. The best way to end it is if more and more colleges and universities go “test-optional,” that is, abandon the SAT and ACT as requirements for admission. This is one instance where the market might actually work, if the institutions are wise enough to take heed of the research on what matters most in picking their freshman class.

David Coleman, president of the College Board (and architect of Common Core), announced plans to revise the SAT. Read here about the changes. Critics now believe that the SAT accurately measures family income, especially the ability to pay the cost of expensive tutors.

Coleman says that will change. Currently, the ACT has more test takers than the SAT.

FairTest is not satisfied with the changes. It hopes more colleges will join the ranks of “test optional,” since high school grades predict college success better than entry tests.

Bob Schaeffer of FairTest wrote:

National Center for Fair & Open Testing

Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773

cell (239) 699-0468

for immediate release, Wednesday, March 5, 2014




Changes to the SAT college admissions test announced today fail to address many major concerns of independent researchers, standardized exam critics, and equity advocates. According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), the revised test is unlikely to be better than the current one. It will not predict college success more accurately, assess low-income students more fairly, or be less susceptible to high-priced commercial coaching courses.

FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer explained, “The College Board’s failure to tackle the SAT’s historic weaknesses means that more schools will go test-optional. Since the 2005 introduction of a flawed ‘new” SAT, nearly 100 additional colleges and universities dropped admissions exam requirements. A recent research report demonstrating that test-optional admissions policies enhance both diversity and academic quality will further accelerate this movement. The truth is no one needs the SAT, either ‘old’ or ‘new.”

Schaeffer continued, “Rather than simply making the essay optional to compete with the ACT, now the most popular admissions exam, the College Board should stop misuse of SAT results. The company should refuse to transmit scores to schools and scholarship agencies that improperly require minimum scores for admission or financial aid.”

“Providing free SAT prep is laudable, but it already exists through programs such as The partnership with the Khan Academy is unlikely to make a dent in the huge market for high-priced, personalized SAT workshops and tutoring that only well-to-do families can afford. Like most of the other College Board initiatives announced today, this move is less significant than its promoters claim.”

The first administration of the revised SAT is scheduled for 2016. A database of more than 800 institutions that do not require ACT or SAT scores to make admissions decisions for all or many applicants is online at:

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The following charts are available on request

- Chronology of 95 schools de-emphasizing ACT/SAT use since the last revision of the SAT

- List of 150+ test-optional and test-flexible schools ranked in the top tiers of their respective categories

- Comparison of number of high school students taking the ACT and SAT annually over the past 20 years

- Links to other fact sheets on the SAT and related topics at:


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