Modern Culture23 Mar 2010 02:58 pm
For high school students who long to attend the college of their choosing, the SAT (formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test) is more than just another test; it is the gatekeeper of their future. Thus, it should come as no surprise that this $45, three hour and forty-five minute test has elicited heated controversy since it was first introduced in 1901. The charge that the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged children—“a wealth test,” as Harvard law professor Lani Guinier calls it—has been ubiquitous. The large body of research on class and cultural bias in standardized testing generally has two main components: In some questions, white people are made to look superior to minorities; and in some questions, there is a presumption of knowledge that is more likely to be held by whites than minorities, providing white students with a hidden advantage.
One of the most widely cited examples of this bias is the now-infamous “oarsman-regatta” analogy question. The question asked the test taker to identify the pair of terms that are the most analogous to the relationship between “runner” and “marathon”. The correct answer was “oarsman” and “regatta”. Critics of this question argue that the correct response assumes that test takers are familiar with crew, a sport that actually manages to be whiter and more elitist that squash, if that is even possible. Accordingly, Fifty-three percent (53%) of white students correctly answered this question, while only 22% of black students got the question right.
Educational Testing Service (ETS), the non-profit organization which creates questions for the SAT, GRE and a plethora of other standardized test, responded to this criticism by developing a set of fairness guidelines (which are posted on their Web site). “Every question is reviewed by trained sensitivity reviewers to ensure that questions do not contain any materials that might contain racial, gender, geographic, or other obvious biases,” said Thomas Ewing, who directs media relations for the testing service.
However, even if we start from the premise that most cultural bias has been successfully eliminated from the test, these changes do little to address the real inequality underlying the test: the meteoric rise of the extremely lucrative SAT coaching business, which has boomed over the past decade. These ubiquitous tutorials tout a series of special tips and strategies for acing the SAT, and these classes have become de rigueur for privileged students. Thus, even with heightened attention towards ameliorating “bias” on the actual SAT, the fact remains that the privileged will always find a way to use their money to maintain every advantage for their children. Frankly, I can’t say that I would do any differently if given the choice….
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