October 21, 2011

"National Merit has never been transparent about, for example, the ethnic diversity of the people who receive National Merit scholarships."

Said William Fitzsimmons, the admissions dean at Harvard, quoted in an article that reports that NYU — like at least 8 other schools — has withdrawn from the National Merit scholarship program, which distributes money based on PSAT scores.
“National Merit has developed a kind of grandeur that is misguided,” said Lawrence Momo, director of college counseling at the private Trinity School... “The mythology that has been created about it in the public imagination is overblown.”
Dropping out of this test-based merit system because of racial/ethic disparities — assuming that's what's going on here — is distinctly different from adopting an affirmative action program to correct for disparities caused by the use of test scores in admissions.

In the Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger, which approved of the University of Michigan Law School's use of race as a "plus factor" in admissions, Justice Clarence Thomas, in dissent, blamed the law school for creating the disparity itself by relying on the standardized test:
[N]o modern law school can claim ignorance of the poor performance of blacks, relatively speaking, on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Nevertheless, law schools continue to use the test and then attempt to “correct” for black underperformance by using racial discrimination in admissions so as to obtain their aesthetic student body... The Law School itself admits that the test is imperfect, as it must, given that it regularly admits students who score at or below 150 (the national median) on the test....

Having decided to use the LSAT, the Law School must accept the constitutional burdens that come with this decision. The Law School may freely continue to employ the LSAT and other allegedly merit-based standards in whatever fashion it likes. What the Equal Protection Clause forbids, but the Court today allows, is the use of these standards hand-in-hand with racial discrimination....
Ending reliance on a standardized test is exactly the solution Clarence Thomas suggested. It does not classify individuals by race or ethnicity.

109 comments:

Skyler said...

It would be nice if the government would get out of the business of telling schools and other organizations how to do things.

Let them accept whatever LSAT rejects they prefer. Their quality will suffer if it's important.

It's not my business or the government's business who Harvard or Podunk wish to teach.

John Bragg said...

I think this is part of the financial squeeze. National Merit Scholarships go against the high-price, high-discount model where schools extract as much money as they can from the families and the creditors.

National Merit Scholarships will continue to be a way for lower-tier schools with ambition to lure upper-tier students. It worked for GW, my alma mater, who has gone from the fringe of the first quartile to #50 in US News in the last 20 years.

slarrow said...

It's called the National Merit Scholarship. Ethnic diversity and financial need are not merit. It's distressing that the Harvard dean of admissions cannot (or will not) grasp this distinction.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Hey, I was a National Merit Finalist- only one of my H.S. class, I think (I've always had a weirdly keen talent for taking standardized tests). I feel like this gives me a right to be angry about this in some concrete and justified way . . .

- Lyssa

Quayle said...

I spent most of Wednesday evening tutoring an 11 year old orphan in our congregation who is now living with her unmarried aunt.

She came over having trouble with her fractions, and she left nailing problem after problem.

And I realized again: kids with dysfunctional homes (and no supportive congregation to pitch in) are at an almost insurmountable disadvantage.

And no expensive government program or Harvard race based decisions are going to change that.

They are always and continually chopping at the branches and calling it "progressive."

Shouting Thomas said...

Black law school graduates fail the bar at incredible rates, leaving them with no job and huge student loan debts to pay.

This is the result of the quota system that bucks blacks up the ladder into schools where they cannot compete.

Every law school is competing for the limited pool of qualified blacks and admitting them with scores that are 100 points below the mean.

It might be a better idea to admit on merit and allow black applicants to enter a school where they have a reasonable chance to succeed (and by succeed I mean pass the bar).

Better to get into a second tier school where you can actually compete, be graded honestly and pass the bar.

dbp said...

Althouse said,

"Ending reliance on a standardized test is exactly the solution Clarence Thomas suggested. It does not classify individuals by race or ethnicity."

I think this is a rather odd way of putting it. I think Thomas' point is that the only way schools can successfully hide the fact that they are engaging in racial discrimination is to get rid of objective measures of apptitude.

PaulV said...

Does the National Merit test have any predictive power on college performance? Harvard has so much money they should not charge th 99% tuition

lyssalovelyredhead said...

OK, how 'bout this: I never took the additional steps apparently required to actually get the scholarship. This certainly wasn't because my (white as the driven snow) race, but, one could certainly argue that it was because of my class. Coming from a lower middle class family with a bunch of kids and parents who didn't ever attend college meant that I never really had anyone to coach me through these things, and I didn't really "catch" what I was supposed to do next or why. Had I had your typical upper middle class helicopter parents, they would have certainly taken the papers and ensured that the requirements were met and then some.

I got a great scholarship through another source anyway, so it probably made no difference, and certainly I bear the blame for not pushing myself to make it happen, but it's troubling nonetheless. I demand that Harvard belatedly recognize my accomplishments without regard to my race!

- Lyssa (who's writing tongue-in-cheek, y'll)

Tim said...

"Dropping out of this test-based merit system because of racial/ethic disparities — assuming that's what's going on here — is distinctly different from adopting an affirmative action program to correct for disparities caused by the use of test scores in admissions."

Except, of course, adopting affirmative action programs to "correct" for "disparities caused by the use of test scores in admissions" created moral hazard in which this is exactly what would happen.

No one should be surprised by this. Once merit was discounted for other purposes, it was inevitable the new goal, the "aesthetic student body" as Justice Thomas so eloquently calls it, would take precedence.

And, as we see every day now, this cancerous gift of Liberals and their collaborators, wittingly so or not, has given us an "aesthetic" president unqualified for his office.

Enjoy the future. It will make all of us yearn for the past.

Bob Ellison said...

Like dbp, I don't understand the Professor's comment that "Ending reliance on a standardized test is exactly the solution Clarence Thomas suggested." Thomas didn't prefer or dislike the LSAT; he simply said applying a race multiplier to it was illegal.

Chip S. said...

Everybody knows that "merit" is a racist concept.

Anyway, "merit" is too vague a concept to serve as the basis for something as important as handing out a one-time payment of $2500. Hell, that could cover 3 months' worth of hotel expenses for Misty Gaines.

"Social justice," OTOH, is a concept with a clear and indisputable interpretation at Harvard.

ndspinelli said...

I heard about a respected law professor who almost got thrown out of this exclusive club for dressing like a hoochy mama. How puritanical! The Merit Scholar girls in my school all wore uniform skirts mid calf. The girls who wore those short skirts were called "skags" by the Merit Scholars. They were called "fallen women" by the nuns. They were called often by the boys.

MayBee said...

Why doesn't some brilliant business person develop a standardized college admissions test specifically for black people?

Chip S. said...

Why doesn't some brilliant business person develop a standardized college admissions test specifically for black people?

The essay part of the application serves this purpose.

Quayle said...

Like dbp, I don't understand the Professor's comment that "Ending reliance on a standardized test is exactly the solution Clarence Thomas suggested."

I read it as Ann showing the irony of the leftists following the very prescription given by Thomas (the mindless, stupid prop of the right)

Tim said...

Justice Thomas wrote: "One must also consider the Law School’s refusal to entertain changes to its current admissions system that might produce the same educational benefits. The Law School adamantly disclaims any race-neutral alternative that would reduce “academic selectivity,” which would in turn “require the Law School to become a very different institution, and to sacrifice a core part of its educational mission.” Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 33—36. In other words, the Law School seeks to improve marginally the education it offers without sacrificing too much of its exclusivity and elite status.

This is exactly right.

It is critical to the mission of these schools, in sanctifying affirmative action, that all of its graduates, regardless of how little qualifications or merit played in student admittance, are perceived as now equally "qualified" or "meritorious."

Thus we end up with the sham of Barack Obama, a clear beneficiary of affirmative action, undergoing processes (whether his education or various elections) by which the standards are protected for all other candidates, so, just like transubstantiation, he is now imbued with all of the qualifications and merit of all others who underwent similar educations or elections, even though his "earning" them is suspect.

Except, of course, in the real world, such lies are fiercely exposed; smarter voters knew this and voted accordingly.

But 53% of the electorate feels better about themselves, so it's all good.

Balfegor said...

I think abandoning standardized testing basically just denies people a fair chance at getting in -- it replaces an admissions process that is, say, 50% open with secret rules, secret law. I'm fine with private schools doing that, since they're private. But I feel like the admissions criteria and the admissions process at public universities should be completely open to public scrutiny, to allow the average member of the public who isn't well connected or isn't from some favoured group the chance to see what the rules are, and work hard to do the best he can under those rules.

Balfegor said...

And circling back, I guess, I don't recall what the National Merit criteria are, but I vaguely recall that they were pretty open about what the criteria were. It was just some score on the PSAT. Who really cares whether they're transparent about the results? Everyone knows the rules of the game -- the competition is on a fair footing -- and everyone who competes knows how he measured up.

MayBee said...

The essay part of the application serves this purpose.

Of the application.
The College Board has become gigantic.
People still complain that black students don't do well on standardized tests like the SAT or LSAT. Is it because they are black, or because of some fault of the test?
If it is the fault of the test,it seems to me there is money to be made if a company could design a standardized test that would be a good measure for black students.

Pogo said...

"Ending reliance on a standardized test is exactly the solution Clarence Thomas suggested. It does not classify individuals by race or ethnicity."

Of course it does, and reliably so.

That's why they reject it.

Chip S. said...

Unless Harvard students' average SAT scores are sky-high by complete happenstance--year after year--Mr. Fitzsimmons takes the very odd position that it's utterly wrong for the Nat. Merit Corp. to use the PSAT as the basis for allocating what amounts to the cost of one semester at his universtiy, but it's perfectly OK for his office to use the SAT as a key basis for picking the 7% of applicants who are granted the privilege of 4 years at the Harvard.

Umm...

Chip S. said...

Is it because they are black, or because of some fault of the test?

It's because of the circumstances of their lives. Day after day they have to struggle against a racist society. This is very tiring. Also, white and Asian kids take a lot of test-prep classes.

The essay provides a forum in which this can be explained, allowing for the appropriate re-scaling of SAT scores. There is no need for a separate test.

Class factotum said...

I never took the additional steps apparently required to actually get the scholarship.

It's been more than 30 years since I took the test, but I don't remember having to do anything but take the test. I got the scholarship and it paid for almost half of my college tuition. I borrowed the other half. It was bad enough having $13,000 in debt when I graduated - $21,000 would have been a lot worse. And yes, I know this is pocket change for students now, but in 1985, it was huge.

edutcher said...

How dare those people award scholarship money based on merit.

They must be Conservative Republicans.

Worse, Libertarians.

Actually, the whole idea of socialism as practiced in this country can't exist without punishing one group to favor another. Let the idea stand or fall on its merits and it falls.

Even Norman Thomas knew that.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think Thomas' point is that the only way schools can successfully hide the fact that they are engaging in racial discrimination is to get rid of objective measures of apptitude."

I've linked to the whole opinion. Why don't you read it?

He is critical of the law school for its embrace of elitism. It's a hell of a lot more interesting than you think.

MarkG said...

People still complain that black students don't do well on standardized tests like the SAT or LSAT. Is it because they are black, or because of some fault of the test?

I believe in a single test for everyone, but designed and written by black college professors. Then let's see who complains.

mariner said...

Standardized tests are good, unless black people don't pass them.

madAsHell said...

the ethnic diversity of the people who receive National Merit scholarships

Can we ask about the ethnic diversity of the full-ride scholarships for the basketball team?...the football team??

clint said...

*Not* using tests isn't a method of selection.

Don't tell me what you *aren't* doing, tell me what you *are*.

If they're giving up the PSATs and LSATs for unwritten racial quotas and fluffy handwaving, that's just obfuscation. If they're giving up the PSATs and LSATs for something better -- tell us what the better thing is. Brag that you've finally squared the circle and come up with a better way to select students.

There are problems with standardized tests. There are problems with grades. There are problems with application essays. There are problems with teacher recommendations. But throwing them all out because they have problems doesn't solve the problem. Heck, even just using a random number generator to select students from your applicant pool favors wealthier students -- because they can afford application fees at all of the top 100 schools.

The fundamental problem is a conflict between two of the desired outcomes: the best prepared student body, and the most diverse.

Affirmative Action is, as always, a ludicrously stupid solution to the symptom of a problem -- the problem starts with the failing elementary schools that are failing students who are disproportionately poor and black. Trying to solve that problem by pretending, at the college level, that we haven't already failed these students completely misses the point -- and hurts exactly the people it purports to help, by saddling them with massive debts to go with their poor educations.

dbp said...

Balfegor got me thinking about what the role of a public university should be. Admission to a prestigeous law school or any medical school will result in a clear path to a pretty good living.

Why necessarily should this valuable publicly provided resource go to the intellectually gifted? Sure, you have to be above average to be successful in such schools. But why give even more to people who, given their intellectual gifts, will do fine without additional credentials?

I say, fill some percentage of the slots with the brilliant, since they will add a lot to the educational environment. Fill the rest of the seats with randomly chosen applicants who are smart enough to handle the rigours of the coursework.

mariner said...

Black law school graduates fail the bar at incredible rates, leaving them with no job and huge student loan debts to pay.

The next step will be to deem black applicants to have passed, even with less-than-passing scores.

DADvocate said...

Typical liberal action, dropping out of a program because it is based on intellectual performance. The race to Idiocracy continues.

MarkG said...

The next step will be to deem black applicants to have passed, even with less-than-passing scores.

Maybe someday judges will have to make sure that cases are decided so that black lawyers win in proportion to white lawyers.

Spread Eagle said...

The idea of course behind relying on standardized testing is to have an objective measure of merit upon which to base admissions. Is that a bad idea?

If the complaint is that standardized testing results in disproportionately fewer minorities (i.e., black) being admitted because they under-perform on the test, then address that discrepancy. Three possibilities jump out: #1 Blacks are inferior cognitively and can't perform as well as Asians and whites; #2 The tests are invalid (don't accurately measure what they purport to measure) and need to be redesigned; #3 Something is occurring and/or not occurring in black children's upbringing, primary education, and secondary education that interferes with their ability to perform well on standardized tests, be they IQ tests, PSAT, SAT or LSAT tests.

I reject #1 out of hand. #2 is a possibility, but those who design standardized tests are constantly looking for ways to ensure validity. I lean towards #3. I believe the approach and experiences of Marva Collins has proven that black kids, even inner city black kids, can be reached, educated, and rendered academically competitive with everybody else. We should be dispensing of the PC tripe and get right down to revamping inner city education, à la Ms. Collins.

DADvocate said...

The next step will be to deem black applicants to have passed, even with less-than-passing scores.

A step that would stain the reputation of all black attorneys in that all of their competency would immediately become suspect. Imagine an appeal where the basis of wanting a appeal was having a black attorney.

Chip S. said...

Why necessarily should this valuable publicly provided resource go to the intellectually gifted?

Tell you what, dbp: When you're looking for a doctor, you take the one who did "well enough" in med school. I'll take the one who was first in her class, who you were kind enough to leave available for me.

I think you go astray when you think that the purpose of public universities is to confer benefits solely on the students who get in. The more persuasive justification is the benefits to the consumers of the services of the graduates of those universities.

carrie said...

The thing about the PSAT is that it is a optional test at most schools. At least at my sons' high school, most kids take it as a practice test and don't prepare for it--most don't care about (or understand) the National Merit Scholarship aspect of the test. The kids who take it seriously and who prepare for it tend to be white kids from more affluent families. When you have an optional test where the results don't mean anything except for a scholarship that is going to be offered to a limited number of high achievers, you are not likely to get ethnic diverse group of people to even sign up for it.

The Drill SGT said...

New York University pulled out of the National Merit scholarships, becoming at least the ninth school to stop funding one of the largest U.S. merit-based aid programs, because it doesn’t want to reward students based on a standardized test.

God forbid, the wrong sorts of people should get aid based on MERIT.

Alan said...

Lyssa,

I'm surprised they didn't find you. Once I was NM Finalist, my scholarship found me without my asking. My experience was like Class Factotum's, but I apparently received my scholarships about the same time as he did. Perhaps things have changed.

For those asking about correlation with success, here's a data point. I'm a N.M. recipient (along with two other academic scholarships of greater value than the N.M.), and I graduated with a 3.7 overall GPA and a 4.0 in my major. But, I attribute that fully to my WASP maleness, rather than to any colorblind academic ability. Just trying to be PC, here.

Thorley Winston said...

The next step will be to deem black applicants to have passed, even with less-than-passing scores.


No, the next step will be a call to get rid of the bar exam.

Spread Eagle said...

And another thing: admitting students despite their underperformance as measured against their peers does them no favors. They find themselves behind the curve and ill prepared for what awaits them. What happens is they either fail, or they get passed along with a wink and a nod. Sometimes we even end up with a hapless clueless president who's in way over his head, someone who'd have been far better off at the University of Idaho like Sarah Palin than at Columbia and Harvard.

Chip S. said...

It turns out that there already is a separate-but-equal merit scholarship for black students--the
National Achievement Scholarship Program
."
To enter the competition, you just have to specify on your PSAT that you're a "Black American" who wants to be considered for the NASP as well as the regular National Merit competition.

What's interesting is that they don't use a separate, "bias-free" test, but rather a separate ranking for the PSAT itself.

The Drill SGT said...

DADvocate said...
The next step will be to deem black applicants to have passed, even with less-than-passing scores.

A step that would stain the reputation of all black attorneys in that all of their competency would immediately become suspect. Imagine an appeal where the basis of wanting a appeal was having a black attorney.


You beat me to it, but I was thinking one step farther. Do a thought experiment and apply it to black doctors?

What do you think the patient referral rate would be to black brain surgeons then?

Jeff in Oklahoma said...

For goodness sake, we don't want to admit students based solely on merit, do we?

Good grief(!)

Bob Ellison said...

The Professor wrote: "I've linked to the whole opinion. Why don't you read it?

"He is critical of the law school for its embrace of elitism. It's a hell of a lot more interesting than you think."

I must be very dense today, because now I've read Thomas's opinion twice, and I still don't see that in the opinion, or the earlier assertion that Thomas suggested ending reliance on a standardized test.

ricpic said...

What's incorrect about disparities? Disparities are the natural order of things. Only massive and coercive intrusion by the state "corrects" disparities.

dbp said...

I think you make some good points Chip S. I have thought about those things and my responses are below:

Tell you what, dbp: When you're looking for a doctor, you take the one who did "well enough" in med school. I'll take the one who was first in her class, who you were kind enough to leave available for me.

I don't think you have to be brilliant to be a good doctor. If you make it through med school and pass your boards, I will be happy to have you take out my appendix, should the need arise. Anyway, if you want a brilliant doctor, just pick one who graduated in the top 20%, that will be one of the gifted ones.

I think you go astray when you think that the purpose of public universities is to confer benefits solely on the students who get in. The more persuasive justification is the benefits to the consumers of the services of the graduates of those universities.

I think that society is better off when our scarce resource of brillinat people is wasted on law or medicine. My plan would limit the wastige to 20% of each class and while law and medicine in general do not require brilliance, there are specialties which do. The brilliant 20% could fill those needs. Otherwise, people like that can do more good for society if they go into science, engineering or business.

dbp said...

"is wasted" should be "isn't wasted"

sorry,

Chip S. said...

@dpb--I agree, in part, with your point that test scores won't be perfectly correlated with surgical ability. However, I think they probably do correlate well with diagnostic ability, which might well be the scarcest medical skill.

But, based on the very limited sample of MDs that I know, one thing they're all good at is staying on task. I think that a large part of what's accomplished by the standard pre-med curriculum is sorting people by their ability to focus on the task at hand and execute it well.

A guy I know had a friend in college (yes, it's a friend-of-a-friend anecdote!) who was so determined to become a brain surgeon that he spent much of his time doing finger exercises to enhance his fine motor skills. He was also very smart, of course. Basically, you don't get to be a high achiever in pre-med at a good college without being a very hard worker as well as having smarts.

dbp said...

Having gone back and read the opinion, I see what Althouse is getting at.

Thomas indicates that there are many ways the University of Michigan could eliminate racial disparity in its law school. One of which was just letting in all the qualified students.

The result would be that the school would not be able to maintain its elite status.

He then goes into some detail as to why Michigan has no compelling need for a public, elite law school.

He is quite persuasive, though I have to admit that he is saying things which already appeal to me.

Nothing_Clever_Comes_To_Mind_DamnIt said...

Being a lurker on this site since the February of Discontent, aka Madison Madness, I felt compelled to respond to this simply because it might be a litttle known "fact" about the National Merit Scholarship program...

It has a "subset recognition" - National Hispanic Scholar. Yep. I know. Doesn't award any money, just recognizes that said hispanic identified student, while not quite reaching the level of NMS, was top tier amongst all hispanics who sat for the psat.

Both of my children were identified as such. Irritated the hell out of me and my oldest. My youngest didn't care one way or the other.

Seven Machos said...

The LSAT tests absolutely nothing. There is not one remotely useful skill useful. It truly tests how well you take a test and nothing more.

Elite schools basically use it as a proxy to find what they believe are (and typically are) really bright people. Other schools, like Illinois, just lie.

Seven Machos said...

Reading through this thread, you people seem to equate doing well on a standardized test (the SAT, the ACT, and the LSAT) with merit. Is that the best way, or even the second best way, or even the 1901st best way to measure merit?

David said...

But ETS has been very clear about the difference in ethnic performance on their tests. They track it, and it's a dismal commentary on the educational performance of African Americans as a group.

The response of course it to attack the test. The test is not flawless, nor are the scores always put to good use. It certainly is not just an aptitude test, regardless of what they call it. It measures accumulated educational and cultural knowledge as well as raw aptitude.

But the test is a pretty good rough measure of how well people will do in academics and perhaps in later life. There are other measures as well, considerably less susceptible to group testing, but that does not invalidate the predictive ability of tests like SAT.

So we resort to diversity policies in higher education and the workplace, and continue to fail in reforming basic primary and secondary education. That may make a lot of guilty white people feel better, but it is not solving the problem.

gutless said...

Is there no standard, measure, merit or virtue that will not be sacrificed on the alter of racial disparity? Other than selection by the NBA of course.

Quayle said...

He then goes into some detail as to why Michigan has no compelling need for a public, elite law school.

It is really hard intellectual work to both maintain elite status and argue for no elitism.

But American ingenuity has succeeded in doing it.

So far.

Seven Machos said...

It certainly is not just an aptitude test, regardless of what they call it. It measures accumulated educational and cultural knowledge as well as raw aptitude.

1. It is in now way an aptitude test, unless by aptitude you mean ability to take the SAT.

2. ETS does not call the SAT an aptitude test and has not since the early 1990s.

3. The SAT measures no raw aptitude and much less than anything you learned in school (even despite the fact that it has improved in recent years).

But the test is a pretty good rough measure of how well people will do in academics and perhaps in later life.

It is in no way such a measure and you cannot produce a single study that says such and you have no clue what you are talking about.

that does not invalidate the predictive ability of tests like SAT

Please tell us what the SAT predicts, other than wealth. Use empirical evidence, not what you believe to be true. This isn't a grocery store where you make choices based on branding.

Graham Powell said...

Could we get some examples of an "ethic" disparity? Preferably in "Goofus and Gallant" form?

Ralph L said...

When I took the SAT in 1977, there was an uncomplimentary essay on the KKK we had to analyze. It irritated me then that there was something so political on the test. Now I wonder how black students reacted to that section--they may have been agitated enough to have botched the answers, when it was obviously put in to foil white supremacists.

Bob Ellison said...

Seven, you're foaming a bit much.

The LSAT is pretty much an IQ test, like the SAT test. Some people say IQ tests are pure garbage, but IQ scores do tend to work pretty well as predictors of academic success. So do motivation, work ethic, etc. But just saying the tests are useless is silly and uninformed.

The evidence you asked David for is all over the place. Try here, for example.

Ralph L said...

SAT used to stand for "Scholastic Aptitude Test". Now I suppose it is just a brand. Guessing Seven didn't do to well on it.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Class Factorum and Alan,

I don't specifically recall now, but I do think that there was something else that I was supposed to do, like write an essay or show my grades or something. Maybe it was that I got into some "almost but not quite" gray area, and you two had a higher grade? Or maybe it really was that I just had to send in a form and never bothered to do so. No idea. This was about 1995.

Or, heck, maybe I got some equivalent of the hispanic thing that Nothing Clever Comes to Mind is talking about, and there never was any money in it. (Actually, my Italian maiden name has in the past been mistaken for Spanish; perhaps I did get the hispanic one!) I just remember that I had to go up on stage and get some certificate for it at some school assembly or another at one point. (Yay.)

Ralph L said...

"too well"
My verbal score was 80 points lower than my math score.

Seven Machos said...

The LSAT does not correlate plausibly with performance in law school. It correlates well with the bar exam -- another test.

Is your thesis, Bob Ellison, that smart people who do well on tests do well on tests about stuff? Really? Awesome, dude. That's brilliant. Have you thought about submitting a paper to an academic journal with findings and footnotes?

This isn't about Harvard. Everyone at Harvard and Standford and NYU is brilliant and passes the bar -- even the black people discussed up thread and, eventually, Kennedys. This isn't about the people with 121s. This is about the middle of the bell curve, where the LSAT doesn't do jack shit and all these other standardized can't predict jack shit.

Moreover, speaking of the brilliant Harvard people, what is the difference between a 170 and a 172? It's one question and a rationale not to admit somebody when there are two people but one space. That's it.

Stop putting these standardized tests on a pedestal. They are awful.

Seven Machos said...

Ralph -- I taught it for 15 years. I know about it than all but a handful of people in the world.

The SAT used to claim to measure intelligence. The SAT used to be a lot of things. It used to be radically different in format. Radically. Why all the changes? Has intelligence changed?

Pray tell, Ralph, you ignorant slut, what are those changes? What was discarded from the SAT and what was it replaced with, and when, and why?

I'll wait.

MayBee said...

Lyssa-
There are different award levels, starting with Commended Scholar which has no monetary award.
If you score high enough to be a semi-finalist, you do need to apply for the scholarship. Of the semi-finalists, a certain number will be selected as finalists and given a scholarship to one of the schools they'd selected (if the school participates in the program, I suppose).

Pastafarian said...

Seven, what would you use instead of standardized testing, as a yardstick to allow universities and scholarship committees to distinguish between applicants?

Balfegor said...

RE: dpb:

Why necessarily should this valuable publicly provided resource go to the intellectually gifted? Sure, you have to be above average to be successful in such schools. But why give even more to people who, given their intellectual gifts, will do fine without additional credentials?

Yeah, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?

Mockery aside, though, I could understand allowing that kind of discretion to discriminate if there were a problem where, e.g. if you allow access through a blind test, you'll end up with practically all of your students coming from an extremely narrow minority of the population (e.g. Chinese students in Malaysia), with the resentment, hatred, and threat of racial violence that can provoke. For public peace, yes, I can see the point. And I can even see, if I squint and look sideways, a possible point to discrimination if the taxpayer base that supports the public university has a racial composition that is dramatically different from the racial composition of enrollees (cf. Asians in the University of California), since why should one be obliged to pay gobs of tax to fund a university system neither you nor your offspring will have much chance of getting into on a blind admissions basis.

But if you're doing that, and you're a public institution, don't hide it away in a black box, let people know. Let them know the rules for access to public resources.

The fairest way to do that is just to tell people that if you're of X race, these are your admissions criteria. Of course, that's obviously illegal discrimination. Quotas are a decent second best, because at least you can see who your competition is. But quotas are illegal too.

The point is not whether people are "intellectually gifted" or not -- the point is letting people know what the rules of decision are for getting some very valuable public benefits. If it's a test, it's a test. If there's some other process, don't just handwave it, tell the public what the process is, what the marks are, so people can aim for something reasonably definite. Shed some sunlight on the mess.

Ralph L said...

If we are to believe you, SAT is no longer an acronym, or at least a different one.

So familiarity breeds contempt?
And those who cannot do, teach?

Who gets to decide if Biden is on the ticket in 2012? Biden?

Pastafarian said...

I read the linked-to piece by Thomas, and I must admit that I didn't quite understand it.

(But then, I was only a National Merit Semifinalist, not a winner or finalist.)

He seems to suggest that universities abandon the idea of selective admissions entirely. And I can see his point: It might be better if they instead made their courses challenging-enough that only the students who demonstrably master the material pass. Instead, colleges selectively admit only the best students, then everyone gets at least a C -- one big reason that, as an employer, I have little regard for an Ivy League diploma.

But then he points out how law schools dangle the prospect of a diploma before underqualified applicants, who then waste their money and time attempting to get a law degree.

These two points seem to contradict one another, since reducing the selectiveness of admissions must result in more cases like this, where people bite off more than they can chew.

Seven Machos said...

Pasta -- Standardized tests are tremendous for people who do well on them. Just like art classes are good for people who are good at art. They should be optional. They should be a component that you can choose to expose.

Otherwise, there are gradations of standardized testing in terms of awfulness. The ACT is less awful, for example. The fact is that there is a better mousetrap to be built, but ETS and ACT have built up a hard-to-break duopoly in a business -- and it's a lucrative business, no different than soft drinks or condoms.

But if all the soft drinks and all the condoms sucked royal ass, you would feel free to bitch. You know you would.

Seven Machos said...

SAT stands for nothing. It's a blank acronym. ETS made this decision. Look into it, dumb ass. Learn something, dude.

You have no idea what you are talking about and it shows.

Pastafarian said...

Seven -- are you saying, then, that standardized tests are the best way for colleges to decide between applicants, but we need better tests?

Or is there another method you'd prefer -- an interview, or gpa, or some combination? Because all of the alternatives to tests seem more subjective.

Ralph L said...

Why all the changes?
You taught it, you tell us.

I assume because Bill Ayers, et al, decided it was unfair to black and hispanic students.

Has the PSAT changed formats, too?

Scott M said...

Or is there another method you'd prefer

Yes. Obstacle course followed by the rifle range out to 300 yards. And before you bellyache that's too easy, throw in a two mile run.

Mary said...
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Scott M said...

Betcha we couldn't get a man on the moon today in our more diverse world.

The inherent gender-bias of that statement identifies you as a reactionary. The truck will be along for you shortly. Please drop us a line and let us know how re-education is going.

Pastafarian said...

ScottM -- Of all the tests I took in high school, I thought that the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) was probably the best. If I recall correctly, it had things broken down into a large number of categories; and it included spatial reasoning and mechanics.

I think it was the best test I took in this sense: If I had to choose a brain surgeon based on their score on either the SAT, ACT, or ASVAB, I'd go with the ASVAB.

Pastafarian said...

Seven, I've never really bought into this notion that some people are better at taking tests, and some have "test anxiety" and all that.

I suspect that if I drew up a test on projective geometry, and if you knew nothing about it, you'd bomb it. Sure, you could make more educated guesses (if it's multiple-choice) than others based on your native intelligence, but that's still measuring something that you have and J, for example, might not.

If we, as a society, tell children (and teachers) what they're expected to know at the end of 13 long years of very expensive publicly funded education, and then at the end of 13 years they're unable to demonstrate that knowledge, it has nothing to do with their inability to color in little ovals on a form.

That inability tells us something about that person as a candidate for further advancement in the field. It's harsh, but it's true.

Now, as far as backing this up with studies that show a correlation between test scores and career achievement: It seems as though it would be difficult to avoid circular reasoning there, to untangle the two, since those with higher scores tend to go to better schools and so on. So I am talking out of my ass, but to me, this all seems self-evident: If academic achievement can be measured, then the only valid way to do this would be with a test of some sort. If it can't be measured, then why bother educating people at all?

Mary said...
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Kirk Parker said...

Spread Eagle,

"I reject #1 out of hand. " Why? Charles Murray didn't; was he just braver than you are? (I mean no disrespect if the answer is 'yes', I wouldn't want to be a flack catcher in that arena either!)

Mary said...
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Balfegor said...

Re: Pastafarian:

If we, as a society, tell children (and teachers) what they're expected to know at the end of 13 long years of very expensive publicly funded education, and then at the end of 13 years they're unable to demonstrate that knowledge, it has nothing to do with their inability to color in little ovals on a form.

Yes, but that's not what the SAT tests at all. It tests elementary school math and vocabulary (and now, with the writing section, it apparently tests your ability to move your hand to write lots of words). The SAT II is a little closer to that, but I don't think you need all the SAT II's to apply to college. Besides which part of the point of the SAT used to be, I thought, that it gave people who went to crappy schools a chance to do well, because you didn't have to catch up on all the content your crappy school failed to teach you.

I'd be perfectly happy if the current set of entrance tests were replaced with deep knowledge tests -- test prep courses would actually have some content, then, rather than just being mindless drills. But I cannot imagine that there would be any stomach for such a system in the US, as it would only exacerbate the class and racial divides in university admissions.

jimbino said...

Hell, if higher education wants to keep Amerikans of color out, they just need to adopt whatever system is used by the national parks and forests. You will never see a non-white face there, unless it's on a Japanese or Chinese tourist.

Ken Burns and National Geographic should also be forced, I suppose using Photoshop, to put some black/brown/yellow/red faces on the tourists they show in their documentaries.

I don't see how it is that gummint bodies can freely discriminate, but private schools cannot.

Seven Machos said...

Balfegor nails it. The LSAT tests nothing. The SAT tests slightly more. The ACT is broad but embarrassingly shallow. The bottom lne is that these tests are cheap and designed for volume. Like modern architecture at it's worst. And both are shit.

As far as what's on the test, look it up, idiot. I am not here to educate you. But I do give advice. And mu advice is that you should avoid opining when you admit you have no clue what you are talking about.

Ann Althouse said...

"I heard about a respected law professor who almost got thrown out of this exclusive club for dressing like a hoochy mama. How puritanical! The Merit Scholar girls in my school all wore uniform skirts mid calf. The girls who wore those short skirts were called "skags" by the Merit Scholars. They were called "fallen women" by the nuns. They were called often by the boys."

Don't you mean Honor Society? My Chemistry teacher tried to get me excluded from Honor Society because I wore miniskirts (around 1966).

Ann Althouse said...

Apparently, there was a morality requirement... that a creepy teacher could invoke.

Ann Althouse said...

"No, the next step will be a call to get rid of the bar exam."

You need to know about Wisconsin and the diploma privilege. Our graduates, if the stay in Wisconsin, don't have to take a bar exam.

Ann Althouse said...

"What's incorrect about disparities? Disparities are the natural order of things. Only massive and coercive intrusion by the state "corrects" disparities."

The problem, in Thomas's analysis, is that the law school is arguing that it needs to be allowed to have a policy to correct for a disparity that is caused by another policy that it chose to adopt and could abandon. To use a racial classification, you need to satisfy strict scrutiny, which requires a compelling interest and narrow tailoring. Taking it as a given in the case law that classroom diversity is compelling, you still need narrow tailoring, which should mean that there are no race-neutral ways to serve the interest. But there is a race neutral way, Thomas says: Get rid of the elite admissions policy that is producing the disparity.

Ralph L said...

Scott M, being shot at might favor the black students.
/bad jk

So, Seven, you spent 15 years teaching how to take a test you believe is worth little? Sounds like my short, but too long, career as a government contractor.

In the 70's, they proudly spelt out SAT. Did they change due to PC, or what? You spew insults, so enlighten us.

Ann Althouse said...

"Like dbp, I don't understand the Professor's comment that "Ending reliance on a standardized test is exactly the solution Clarence Thomas suggested." Thomas didn't prefer or dislike the LSAT; he simply said applying a race multiplier to it was illegal."

See my previous comment.

He's saying that if Michigan doesn't like the racial disparity it caused through reliance on the LSAT, it could stop doing what causes the disparity, and therefore the correction arrived at via affirmative action is not needed to meet the compelling interest in diversity.

Ann Althouse said...

He's not necessarily saying Michigan should pursue diversity, just that if Michigan thinks diversity is so important — so compelling — it has something other than racial classification that would work.

Freeman Hunt said...

To become a National Merit Scholar you have to get a certain score, which varies each year because it's based on percentiles, on the PSAT. Verbal is, or at least was, double-weighted. Then you have to take the SAT and get a qualifying score there.

The main advantage of being a National Merit Scholar or Finalist or Semi-Finalist is that colleges come to find you with scholarships rather than your having to search for them.

Freeman Hunt said...

I want to provide my children with an intellectually rigorous education.

It increasingly looks as though I should never send them to college in order to accomplish that.

If your educational institution cares more about skin color than SAT score, your educational institution has a problem.

Freeman Hunt said...

One more thing about National Merit: Finalist is basically the same as Scholar. Lots of Finalists don't go for an official NM scholarship because they already got full rides for being Finalists.

PaulV said...

All I know is back in the day Joe Biden took the place of a more qualified black person or woman in law school.

Scott M said...

All I know is back in the day Joe Biden took the place of a more qualified black person or woman in law school.

Absolute bullshit. Joe Biden got in taking the place of a more qualified special needs kid.

Ralph L said...

It tests elementary school math and vocabulary
I'd heard they'd debased SAT scoring in the 90's. Didn't know they'd debased the test, too, but they wouldn't announce that. And it still wasn't enough to satisfy the Ivies' desire for minority students?

Thomas says: Get rid of the elite admissions policy
Then the qualified minorities will move to other schools that didn't lose their elite status, but still favor minorities, and the public school has to pay minorities to sign up.

Mary said...
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jimbino said...

I understand that the distinction between "Finalist" and "Scholar" has finally been eliminated.

The Finalist used to be the one who achieved a high score on the NMSQT; The Scholar was a finalist whose daddy worked for IBM, GE and other organizations that "sponsored" finalists by awarding them 4-year full-rides in college.

I was twice a National Merit Finalist (we had around 14 from our high school) but never got a dime out of it.

Much more impressive in that day were the Westinghouse Science Talent Search and the Joe Berg Science Seminar, which, on account of the Sputnik embarrassment, implemented programs to select and encourage the brightest in STEM.

Funny, in my day I never heard of anybody training for the PSAT, SAT, ACT or NMSQT. Back in those days, they probably actually taught law in law school, too, obviating the need for expensive bar-prep classes.

Peter said...

Well, at least the critics of the National Merit Scholarships are clear on appropriate metrics of 'merit': Start with the desired results, and then fashion metrics that produce the desired result!

That is, they have the answer- now, they need to figure out the questions that will lead to the desired answer.

Skyler said...

And the idea that an anonymous standardized test can somehow be racist or racially biased is absurd.

Perhaps, if it really is true that blacks don't do as well on average as other races, this is really saying something that Justice Thomas doesn't want to believe about racial differences.

Destroying the legitimacy of intelligence can only serve to make its opposite more legitimate.

Freeman Hunt said...

There indeed are academically rigorous schools at all levels where merit matters more than PC.

True. That's why I write "increasingly." I'm also a fan of hyperbole.

I am getting annoyed, however, at the number of schools I've had to cross off the mental acceptable short list during the last few years.

I will pay big money for merit and rigor. I will not pay a dime for wishy washy feelgoodism.

Ralph L said...

if Michigan thinks diversity is so important — so compelling — it has something other than racial classification that would work.
This seems like a contradiction, or a Catch 22.

They measure diversity by percentages, right? How will they ever push up their minorities without keeping out some whites/asians? How can they do that--degrade the reputation of their school?

Here in NC, the state university system has tried to attract white students to their traditionally black campuses by siting elite programs & schools in them. But everyone still wants to go to Chapel Hill or NC State.

Peter said...

Seven Machos said...
“The LSAT tests absolutely nothing. There is not one remotely useful skill useful. It truly tests how well you take a test and nothing more.

Elite schools basically use it as a proxy to find what they believe are (and typically are) really bright people.”

So which is it: does the LSAT test only “how well you take a test,” or or does it do a pretty good job of selecting for “really bright people”?

Why would it matter whether you're testing for a proxy for something, or for the thing itself- so long as the correlation between the two is high enough?

Seven Machos said...

No one needed the LSAT to know the people were bright. As I say the problem is on the middle of the curve.

MarkD said...

I propose that white dudes get 8 points for scoring a touchdown, due to disproportionate representation.

How else are we going to stay in the record books? Except for quarterbacks. I'll give you that. In fact, guys like Tom Brady should only get 5 points for throwing one.

It's only fair.

Holmes said...

161. Studied after work for it. Took it once. Glad I never had to take it again.

I was a National Merit Finalist too.1440 on the psat. We didn't study for it because we didn't know we were about to be tested or that it was important at all.

Who else likes my anonymous academic resume?