Equal Opportunities . . . Not Outcomes; 'Holistic' Downgrading of College Admissions Standards?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 20, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Equal Opportunities . . . Not Outcomes; 'Holistic' Downgrading of College Admissions Standards?


One of the most contentious social and political debates of our time pits the opposing goals of equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome.

Some would claim the point was settled before the Founding of the American republic in that the Declaration of Independence recognized as an unalienable right the pursuit of happiness rather than happiness itself. Others argue that various social and political disadvantages through history create the need for more balanced outcomes as recompense for past wrongs.

This discussion is no more heated than in the world of education. The question of opportunity versus outcome is vexing and whether the discussion revolves around K-12 education or higher education, opportunity and outcome continually collide.

We increasingly see this conflict played out in the way colleges and universities decide whom to admit and the unfortunate trend is that too many schools are redefining merit as it has traditionally been recognized.

The main engine behind this effort to change the nature of academic merit is a group called Fair Test, a Boston-based organization that characterizes itself as working to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing.

The reality, however, is far different. The efforts and track record of this organization demonstrate that simply administering a standardized test constitutes a misuse, while the primary flaw of such tests is that they exist at all.

Standardized tests have been accused of potential bias since the 1970s when activists insisted that an Scholastic Aptitude Test question involving the word regatta was biased against women, minorities and anyone else who hadn't sported a silk ascot at the yacht club. In fact, the SAT and the ACT, another widely used college admissions test, have long since addressed legitimate claims of bias in testing. Both are scrupulously developed, reviewed and updated by dedicated educators to ensure they reflect a student's academic merit. They also are administered in a consistent manner, which is more than you can say about a lot of things in life. Anyone who must adhere to a set of standards in any endeavor knows they sometimes seem arbitrary. But arbitrary as college admission standards may be, they are nothing compared to the tyrannical anarchy of ill-defined or holistic admissions, which Fair Test promotes.

Human nature demands that we be given a target - something for which we can strive.

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Equal Opportunities . . . Not Outcomes; 'Holistic' Downgrading of College Admissions Standards?


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