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The Red Herring of College Testing in Black Admission

Ronell Smith
May 30, 2020 · 4 min read

The push to remove testing as a so-called barrier to education for black and brown kids is creating more problems than it solves.

A recent WSJ post highlights the further assault on the SAT, which many colleges have stopped requiring for those applying to their schools.

The push to do away with testing has mainly been waged by folks who ostensibly assume that eschewing testing makes it more likely that black and brown kids will gain admittance to college, even some of the most selective colleges, an honor most are not privy to owing to their families’ inability to afford the many thousands of dollars needed for test prep, say supporters of banning testing.

I write “ostensibly” because the concern is either misplaced or, worse, a feint used to justify ignoring the real, substantive change that must take place for more black and brown kids to take advantage of higher-ed: a much-needed focus on home life.

  • A significant part of the problem revolves around the lack of familial stability that makes college overall out of reach for many blacks and Latinos. For example, most black kids are born to single, unwed mothers. These kids — even in best of conditions—typically find it hard to justify leaving home for college, as many must work to help the household. And even those that do gain admittance to college have a much tougher time completing school. Removing testing won’t fix that.
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  • If you remove testing, you still have the problem of kids who can attend college but who are unprepared to compete at the top schools—which are the ones leading the no-SAT brigade. Top schools often take these kids, but they drop out and transfer or, worse, never graduate at all. If these schools insist on eschewing testing, they must also redouble their effort to ensure the kids admitted had a reasonable chance of graduating; otherwise, the kids are the real loser.
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Inside Higher Ed
  • Lowering the bar mainly pits blacks and Latinos against Asians in higher-ed. Asians are the group most harmed by moving away from testing, in large part because theirs are the highest test scores. But is it really fair to penalize a group—any group—for their hard work? I say no. In fact, I think Asians provide a model for blacks and Latinos to follow. According to credible research, Asian kids are far more likely to come from two-parent households and spend the most hours studying of any group. What’s more, much of their success cannot be explained by wealth.
  • The SAT actually overpredicts how well students do their freshmen year of college. What it does not measure well is how many black and brown kids often do better than non-minorities AFTER college. This is an important point in the Affirmation Action discussion. (“The Shape of the River: Long-term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions,” by Derek Bok, James Shulman, and William G. Bowen.) Instead of banning the test, weighing it alongside other, no less valuable, factors makes the most sense. Most colleges are ALREADY doing just that, which makes it clear that the no-test policy is more virtue signaling than anything else.

Real change requires courage

Minority college enrollment is an issue I’ve been reading about, researching—as a journalist and as a research assistant after college—and thinking through for more than 20 years. During this time, it’s occurred to me that, despite our best efforts and intentions, we’ve been thinking about it all wrong.

Helping one group by penalizing another marginalized group can’t be the answer, certainly not long-term, and particularly not when the results are, at best, spotty. Helping kids get into colleges they won’t graduate from isn’t the best way forward. And ignoring the role that home life plays in the plight of black and brown kids in higher ed is downright cruel.

We’re either setting these kids up to fail, or we’re creating enemies for them in the workplace and beyond. I think we’re doing both.

A solution that creates more problems than it solves is no solution at all.

Potempkin Village

There are no sacred cows.

Ronell Smith

Written by

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool content guy driven to help small business owners create messages that stick.

Potempkin Village

Through these posts, I’m committed to sharing difficult truths that move discussions of race, politics, education, culture, and the advancement of the poor forward.

Ronell Smith

Written by

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool content guy driven to help small business owners create messages that stick.

Potempkin Village

Through these posts, I’m committed to sharing difficult truths that move discussions of race, politics, education, culture, and the advancement of the poor forward.

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