Center for Equal Opportunity Now Targets State of Maryland
By Linda Meggett Brown and the Associated Press
A dmissions practices at Maryland’s public schools and colleges are the latest targets of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which has released a study indicating that Black students are getting in with lower SAT scores than those of White students.
The report from the Washington-based organization says minority students are being admitted to selective schools even though statistics show many won’t perform as well as Whites in classes or complete their degrees within four years.
State education officials say the report reveals nothing new about student performance at state schools, nor do they apologize for policies that help minorities obtain an education.
“It isn’t news,” says Jeff Welsh, a spokesman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission. “We’ve been working on this issue for a long time.”
The study, called Preferences in Maryland Higher Education, is the latest in a series of reports that tries to poke holes in school administrators’ claims that they use colorblind admissions criteria when reviewing student applications.
According to the study, White freshmen enrolled at the University of Maryland in 1997 had a median SAT score of 1220, 170 points higher than the Black median composite score of 1050. Similar disparities were noted at St. Mary’s College, as well as at Salisbury State, Bowie State and Frostburg State universities.
Linda Chavez, president of the center, says this gap provides substantial evidence that race was not just a tiny factor but instead the determining factor in admissions — and as such, would violate the constitutional right to equal protection under the law.
Chavez, former director of the Civil Rights Commission in the Reagan administration, says the evidence is very strong that Maryland colleges engage in racial and ethnic discrimination that favors Blacks, Asians and Hispanics.
“If you can show that there are different criteria used for admissions based on someone’s skin color, then that’s a clear violation of the equal protection clause” in the Constitution, she says. “I don’t think schools can choose to have different admissions standards for students based on their skin color.”
Despite claims of bias, however, the report offered no proof that White students were rejected from Maryland colleges while Black students with lower test scores or lesser qualifications were admitted.
“We just simply can’t make that claim,” she says. “We decided to publish it anyway because it gives a snapshot of what’s going on in Maryland.”
But Welsh counters that what’s going on in Maryland is the “gradual elimination of the vestiges of a legally segregated system” where minority students were denied a full range of educational opportunities.
Chavez insists that her group’s goal is not to keep minorities out of college, but rather to “force policymakers to confront this skills gap and to do something about it.”
Still, the group has been prominent in national anti-affirmative action battles that have led to policies being overturned in California and Texas. The center’s analysis of Virginia colleges last year prompted changes in the University of Virginia’s admissions process.
Officials with the organization have made freedom of information requests with more than half the states in the country for similar information. Since 1995, studies have been completed in Maryland, Virginia, California, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington. In the Maryland study, the service academies at West Point and Annapolis have been included as well.
Using a composite of old studies within the eight states, the center plans to issue a multistate study assessing how the states match up, Chavez says. The center also intends to release data on professional schools and law schools.
In the Maryland study, performance disparities between minority and White students were most pronounced at smaller, predominantly White schools like St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Frostburg State University. But several large schools also showed gaps.
Marc Apter, a spokesman for St. Mary’s College of Maryland, says recruiters at the liberal arts school in southern Maryland “are looking for a cross-section of students that reflect the population of the state that we serve.”
He says St. Mary’s minority students, which make up 17 percent of total enrollment, are chosen based on their ability to perform in their first year of college. In the 1999-2000 school year, 92 percent of Black students returned for their sophomore year — a higher percentage than Whites, he says.
Apter says St. Mary’s freshmen are chosen first for the quality of their high school curricula, followed by grade-point average, a personal essay and SAT scores.
At the University of Maryland College Park, the state’s flagship school, White students scored an average of 110 points higher in math and 60 points higher in verbal on the SAT than Black students, according to 1997 data.
Hispanics also had lower median SAT scores than Whites at the University of Maryland College Park, but Asians outpaced their White counterparts overall, with slightly lower verbal scores but higher math scores.
“I feel real confident exacting that our policy and practice are legal, and I have confidence what we do meets the letter and spirit of the law,” says Dr. Linda Clement, undergraduate admissions director at College Park.
“I hate to see the admissions process associated with standardized test scores,” Clement says. “It is one of 25 variables we use.”
The institution looks at other factors, including the rigor of the high school curriculum; how the student performed over time; leadership; community service; work and internship experience and more. Diversity includes race and ethnicity, geographic location and academic plans, Clement says.
The study narrows it to single test scores, and Clement says that bothers her. The SAT wasn’t designed to aggregate group scores, but was designed for use with other factors. The Center is using the test “in a way in which the test creators never intended,” she says.
Chavez admits that the Maryland analysis is less complete than the studies performed in other states. She says that is because officials didn’t provide all the information requested.
“We normally ask not just for SAT scores but for grade-point averages, class ranking, four- and six-year graduation rates, aggregate scores for remedial programs,” Chavez says. “We also look at information for students whose applications are rejected.”
But she says Maryland officials refused to honor the request. Officials at the College Park campus wanted to charge $70,000 for the information, she says.
Clement says the center’s request was for 10 years of data including individual test scores, grades, gender, race and more. The university has 20,000 applicants every year.
Chavez says that although Maryland didn’t provide the same information as other states, “what we do know with confidence is that whenever there is a large gap in SAT scores, there are similar gaps in other areas like grade-point averages.”
Schools use SAT scores for admission because they are good indicators of how students will do the first year, she says. “It somewhat over-predicts performance of Black students while it pretty well matches White students’ performance,” she says.
“The criticism is shallow,” says Dr. William Harvey, vice president and director of the Office of Minorities in Higher Education at the American Council on Education. “She admitted they didn’t have all the data to base a conclusion, but they published the study. They used one criterion… and based a study.”
Harvey goes on to say that the study’s conclusions suggest that the researchers either don’t understand or elect not to acknowledge the benefits and value of a college environment with students of various backgrounds.
“I don’t give it any credibility,” Harvey says. “It shows they are not interested in facilitating diversity.”
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