Monday, May 19, 2008

Racism in Standardized Tests and GPAs

Racism in school and test scores

Discussions of test scores come up in an article about racism in the public schools of Erie, PA:
The first-grade students of Pickens' classroom at Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School, one of the most diverse in the city, sit side-by-side, a black girl's arm draped happily around a white boy's shoulder. Here, 67 percent of the student body are minority and poor, with 97 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.

First-graders don't know what racism means, but they do know one thing: "You're supposed to be nice to everyone," piped 6-year-old Shauntaia Williams...

Despite the innocence of the first-graders, a new survey of Erie's racial climate reports that racism has crept into hallways and classrooms. In the "Erie Experiences Survey," commissioned by the Citizens Against Racism in Erie, minority parents reported having many fewer positive experiences with school officials than did white parents, though parents of both races visited their children's schools equally. Parents of all races reported similar levels of discipline problems, but minority parents reported that their children received less academic recognition than their white classmates. Seventy percent of white parents said their children received academic recognition, compared with 56 percent of minority parents...

Talk to Erie schools Superintendent James Barker about racism, and he talks about inequality and the achievement gap between white students and those of other races. Standardized test scores released in November show disparities between minorities in the Erie School District. The number of black students at Pfeiffer-Burleigh scoring in the advanced or proficient range reading portions of the test averaged 30.4 percent, while 56.2 percent of white students scored in that range.

I'm not sure what we're supposed to conclude from those numbers. That racism inherent in the school system is holding minority kids back? That whatever the school is offering cannot overcome a deprived home life? That a parent's insistence that racism exists might be depriving their child of confidence when it comes to tests? All of the above?

All we know for sure is that black students in Erie are indeed performing less well, as a group, than white students. The survey results are useful, but I'm not sure if they provide the information needed to help close the achievement gap.

And then there's this odd quote from Gannon University President Antoine Garibaldi:
Garibaldi said diversity is constantly on the radar screens of people on an eight-person affirmative action committee at the university, where seven percent of undergraduates are minorities.

"Do we want everyone who will have a 4.0 and a near 1600 on the SAT, or do we want a class with some diversity, someone who has a 3.0 and a 1200 or a 1100 on the SAT but who is also talented and might be a person of color?" Garibaldi said. "Diversity makes for a better college experience."

Really? Why? I'm all for admitting someone with a 3.0 GPA and a 1200 SAT to college, but I don't follow the logic that someone who has lower grades than the 4.0 student, but has darker skin, will automatically be an improvement on the "college experience." Isn't that what Garibaldi is saying here? Why must we assume that the 4.0/1600 student cannot contribute anything to campus "diversity"? Won't they contribute something just by being so darn smart? And why must we consider the 3.0/1200 minority student to be useful solely due to their contribution to "diversity?" Why shouldn't the first consideration be what the college can do for that minority student, rather than what the minority student can do for the campus culture?

What's more, African American students in the college-bound class of 2002 had an average SAT score of 857, while the average scores for whites and Asian Americans weren't much higher (1060 and 1070, respectively). Any student with a 3.0 and a 1200 should have a shot at college, not because of their alleged contribution to "diversity" but because they're more qualified to contribute to the intellectual climate on campus than many of the college-bound seniors of today.

Works Cited
Erwin, Erica. "Racism creeps into the classroom." The Times News. 19 January 2004. The
Times News. 30 April 2008 <

No comments: