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The SAT: Past, Present, and Future August 19, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Achivement Gap, African American Students, Black Students, Blogroll, Higher Education, SAT, Standardized Testing.

Among the many advocates for social justice and equity in higher education there are those who would love nothing more than to relegate the SAT to the realm of trivia. There it would live for all time as a disturbing and cautionary anecdote of a century-long foray into academic engineering and culturally-biased test crafting. As an educator and advocate for greater access to high education for all, I am sometimes surprised that my own feelings on the topic of the SAT (and on standardized testing in general) are somewhat more neutral. 

My knowledge of the SAT grows out of my experience as a test taker (many years ago), as a former undergraduate admission officer (almost as many years ago), and as a sometimes reader and evaluator of select undergraduate applications in my current position as college professor.

These experiences have shown me that the very highest score levels (750 and above on any given section or subject test), do indeed indicate a sharp mind and a keen intellect. I have also, however, witnessed the failure of such scores to necessarily predict one’s ability and/or inclination to apply that sharpness of mind in such a way that translated into academic succcess. I have also seen unquestionably brilliant students achieve only average scores on these exams, in contradiction to every other indicator of their past achievement and future potential. Exceptional performance on the subject tests are somewhat more indicative of an applicant’s potential for strong academic performance and capacity for learning.

Both the general (math/verbal) and the subject tests, however, are less reliable measures than exceptional grades in an honors- or AP-level curriculum (including high AP exam scores) at an average or above average public or private high school. Grades are, in the end, my own measure of preference for evaluating a student’s past performance and for predicting his or her future success.

From where I sit, the SAT general test means a lot less than many would like to mean.They do provide some information about students, but they are not as accurate (and thus should not be emphasized or relied upon as much) as other measures; and yet SATs — if read not individually, but in the context of school and regional groups — also serve as a useful red flag in identifying failing educational systems and outmoded high school curricula.

Indeed, this would probably be the best use of the exam, as a tool for measuring the effectiveness of various education systems and strategies. Eventually, the role of the SAT may well shift from a means of measuring the potential and worthiness of 16 and 17 year-olds to a means of evaluating the effectiveness of schools, parents, particular educational approaches, and specific curricula in producing high school graduates who are intellectually sophisticated and academically sound.

For the time being, though, the test continues in its role as a college entrance  exam. I offer the following list as a rough sketch of the curious and often challenging relationship between the SAT and students of African descent:

  • Number of Black students who took the SAT in 2005: 153,132
  • Number of Black students who took the SAT in 2005 and scored over 700 on the verbal portion of the exam: 1, 205
  • Number of Black students who took the SAT in 2005 and scored over 700 on the math portion of the exam: 1, 132
  • Average combined math and verbal SAT score for Black test takers in 2005: 864
  • Percentage of white 2005 test takers (SAT) with family incomes of less than $20,000 per year: 5
  • Percentage of Black 2005 test takers (SAT) with family incomes of less than $20,000 per year: 20
  • Likelihood, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, that income alone can explain the Black-white SAT score gap: nil
  • More likely explaination for the Black-white SAT score gap, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education: high school curriculum
  • Percentage of Black 2005 SAT takers who had honors level coursework in English: 29
  • Percentage of white 2005 SAT takers who had honors level coursework in English: 40
  • Percentage of Black 2005 SAT takers who had honors level coursework in math: 19
  • Percentage of white 2005 SAT takers who had honors level coursework in math: 32

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Troubled FAMU Still Tops for Black Grads August 5, 2007

Posted by twilightandreason in Academia, African American Students, Black Colleges, Black Students, FAMU, Florida A&M University, HBCUs, Higher Education, race.
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The last few years have been difficult ones for Tallahassee’s Florida A&M University (FAMU). Traditionally known for it’s excellence in athletics, its comprehensive academic programs, and it’s outstanding marching band, FAMU has recently made headlines for its financial irregularities, high profile hazing incidents, decreasing enrollments, and lower graduation rates.

Despite these challenges, however, Florida A&M University remains the United States’ top producer of Black bachelor’s degree holders. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, “It was followed by Howard University, Georgia State University, and Southern University and A&M College in the ranking.” Florida State University, also based in Tallahassee, was number five.

This ranking is based on information reported by the DOE (Department of Education) for the 2005 – 2006 school year.

In a related article TampaBay.com journalist Nicole Hutcheson notes that “FAMU has long been considered among the more successful historically black schools, tying Harvard as the top recruiter of National Achievement Scholars in 2001.” Hutcheson’s article profiles three FAMU families whose membes include both currently enrolled students and alums (as parents, siblings, and other relatives).

Legacy students (the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and siblings of alums) are common at a number of HBCUs, especially on high-profile campuses like FAMU. Indeed, Black  colleges and universities welcome such applicants for their ready-made familiarity with college culture and expectations, for their function as living links to the history of each institution, and for their role as living, breathing testimony to the powerful role of the HBCU in building and perpetuating African American prosperity.

On FAMU and other HBCU campuses,  second-generation college students whose parents attended majority-white institutions and well as their first-generation classmates can draw a sense of pride and purpose beyond their individual achievements from the proud history of these insitutions. The presence of a critical mass of legacy students reinforces the value and relevance of that history today, in the 21st century, and well into the future.

Other good news about FAMU (from the Tallahassee Democrat):

Misha Granado, a spring 2007 graduate, was selected as a Fulbright Fellow.

Cymeia Hill, a spring 2007 graduate, was recognized by the Florida Health Information Management Association as the Outstanding Health Information Management student in the state.

Darius Graham, a 2006 graduate, was named by USA Today to the 2006 All-USA College Academic First Team.

The FAMU School of Nursing achieved a 94-percent pass rate on the national licensing exam that all of its graduates take to become registered nurses. The national mean is 88 percent.

The Department of Physics produced about 40 percent of the physics Ph.D.s earned by black Americans this academic year.

The Department of Psychology was recognized as the number one producer of black Americans with baccalaureate degrees in psychology among HBCUs and among the top 10 of all universities across the country.

Posted by Ajuan Mance