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Stacking the SAT Deck

One's racial and economic privilege or lack thereof will be calculated in secret.

Arnold Ahlert · May 23, 2019

Earlier this year, students at Saratoga Springs High School were given a “privilege reflection form” and asked to calculate their privilege based on point totals added or subtracted from one’s score. Unsurprisingly, if one were white, male and/or heterosexual, points were added to one’s score. Those who were black, female, and/or homosexual subtracted points from their total. “At the end of the survey, students scoring negative 100 points or less were considered ‘very disprivileged,’ while students who scored above 100 points were told to ‘check it daily’ — as in check their privilege daily,” the Daily Gazette reported. Now, similarly poisonous nonsense has taken hold at the College Board: each SAT test-taker will be given an “adversity score” that purports to level the playing field between students from different social and economic backgrounds.

“The score will be calculated using 15 factors, including the relative quality of the student’s high school and the crime rate and poverty level of the student’s neighborhood,” The New York Times reports. “The rating will not affect students’ test scores, and will be reported only to college admissions officials as part of a larger package of data on each test taker.”

In other words, one’s privilege or lack thereof will be calculated in secret.

Why? Colleges are desperate to preserve the contemptible notion that diversity is more important than meritocracy. And while the Board insists race will not be part of the equation, it is the racial achievement gap, which has existed for decades and leaves many minority students un- or under-qualified to gain admissions to elite colleges, that remains the bane of colleges desperate to justify those admissions.

That Asian parents generally demand higher levels of academic achievement from their children than white or black American parents do? That white students from low-income households have fared better on the SATs than black students from upper-middle-class ones? That the University of California has determined that race predicts SAT scores better than class?

College Board CEO David Coleman, who is also credited with being the architect of the disastrous Common Core curriculum, is thrilled. “Merit is all about resourcefulness,” he insists. “This is about finding young people who do a great deal with what they’ve been given. It helps colleges see students who may not have scored as high, but when you look at the environment that they have emerged from, it is amazing.”

Nonsense. Merit is about merit. Moreover, vocabulary gives the Board away. A student’s “Overall Disadvantage Level” will be rated on a scale of one to 100. Scores over 50 points will indicate “hardship,” and scores lower than 50 points will indicate “privilege.”

No doubt it’s pure coincidence that “privilege” has been routinely used by leftists to vilify white Americans. Yet even if this effort is not about race, what’s so noble about discrimination by class?

In reality, the effort to subvert standardized testing is about two things. First, colleges want cover for admitting less-qualified students, and the College Board is more than willing to give to them. As the Daily Caller explains, the College Board “would not say how it makes the score or weighs the 15 factors considered.” Moreover, part of the total will be derived from “sources ‘proprietary’ to the College Board.”

Second? “The College Board is reacting to demand from colleges, many of which are making use if the SATs optional, or even dropping the requirement entirely, precisely because it does not yield the desired racial distribution of scores,” columnist Thomas Lifson reveals. “Fewer students taking the test, because colleges don’t require it, means less money for the College Board. By adding the adversity score and therefore a veneer of pseudo-science to the racial engineering of outcomes, the College Board is feathering its own financial nest.”

In other words, it’s all about the money.

And who’s kidding whom? The system is easily gamed, as one can rent an apartment in a bad section of town to use as an address, or hide income, to appear poor. Moreover, if this is a reaction to the college admissions scandal whereby 50 elitists, including Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, simply bribed their children’s way into college, irony abounds: The College Board is also asserting that gaining the system is OK, as long as the gamesmanship accrues to the interests of its designated victims.

In fact, as Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald astutely points out, black students who already know they are held to a different standard than their white and Asian counterparts will have less incentive to push themselves, making the problem worse. “At present, thanks to racial preferences, many black high school students know that they don’t need to put in as much scholarly effort as non-‘students of color’ to be admitted to highly competitive colleges,” she writes. “The adversity score will only reinforce that knowledge.”

Mac Donald further notes campus diversity bureaucrats will be the only guaranteed beneficiaries of this scheme. “They have been given another assurance of academically handicapped students who can be leveraged into grievance, more diversity sinecures, and lowered academic standards,” she adds.

What about equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of results? In a revealing paragraph, the Times insists that “families who hire expensive consultants and tutors” are also gaming the system, and that higher SAT scores “have been found to correlate with students from wealthier families and those with better-educated parents.”

In other words, absent a wholly classless society, equality of opportunity doesn’t exist. Thus, it becomes necessary to equalize the outcome — in the interests of preserving meritocracy, no less!

If such nonsense sounds Orwellian, that’s because it is. Furthermore, no amount of subterfuge can obscure the reality that many students conned into believing they are ready for college work will end up switching to less-demanding majors, or dropping out entirely when they discover they’re not.

The long-term consequences of this fraud? In a real world with far more exacting standards, even the most dedicated progressives will not entrust their well-being to those who’ve been taught that even where accuracy is critical, substandard efforts may be deemed acceptable if one’s socio-economic credentials demonstrate a sufficient level of adversity.

Nonetheless, the “soft bigotry of low expectations” doesn’t play well in places like operating rooms, or pilot seats — all the social justice warrior rhetoric in the world notwithstanding.

Regardless, the College’s Board’s “Environmental Context Dashboard,” which has already been field-tested by 50 colleges, will be embraced by another 150 schools this year, with a wider rollout scheduled for 2020.

“The whole purpose of standardized exams like the SAT is to implement one standard for everyone,” writes columnist Karol Markowicz.

Not any more. “If I am going to make room for more of the [poor and minority] students we want to admit and I have a finite number of spaces, then someone has to suffer and that will be privileged kids on the bubble,” stated John Barnhill, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Florida State University.

Privileged? Better qualified is more like it.

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