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All About Access

All About AccessDespite the fact that most students and teachers are at least a month away from returning to the classroom, the last few weeks have been active ones in terms of education policy.
Noteworthy, of course, was the Supreme Court’s approval, in a 5-4 decision, of the use of tax dollars for school vouchers, and the College Board’s approval of major changes to the SAT I (see story, pg. 11). These decisions highlight the issues of quality education and access.
How will these most recent and significant changes affect students and students of color in particular? President Bush compared the historic significance of the recent Supreme Court decision on vouchers or “school choice” as he prefers to call it, to the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision. “The Supreme Court in 1954 declared that our nation cannot have two educational systems, and that was the right decision,” Bush said earlier this month in Cleveland. He went on to say that the Supreme Court declared that the nation will not accept one educational system for those can afford to send their children to a school of their choice and for those who can’t. Whether such a comparison to Brown is valid is questionable, but time will tell.
In addition, the College Board earlier this month announced that it was adding an essay portion as well as a more-advanced math section to the SAT I so that the test is “more aligned to the curriculum and state standards of a high school education.” And although the College Board says that it had plans to revise the SAT years ago, they do not deny the process was accelerated when University of California System President Richard Atkinson last year criticized the use of the SAT I and suggested that the UC System might do away with the test altogether. Despite the changes, however, one critic says the test is still a “gatekeeper to minority and low-income students” and no revisions to the test will change this.
Lee Bollinger, former president of the University of Michigan, in a recent speech to the College Board, said that the ongoing controversy surrounding the SAT is not over the test itself but rather what the test represents. The SAT “has become a symbol of all the anxieties, concerns, fears, and frustrations in the college-admissions system,” Bollinger said.
In any case, how and to what extent both the voucher and SAT decisions will affect American students may be more evident down the road. As one Washington Post reporter wrote recently, “the greatest impact from these two decisions is at least a generation away, and change in American schools is very slow.”
Lastly, our cover stories on assistive technology offer a glimpse into what some colleges and universities are doing to make their campuses more accessible for students with disabilities. Engineering students in the assistive technology program at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell are doing their part to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities with their creative innovations (see story, pg 27). With technology changing rapidly and becoming so sophisticated, there seems to be endless possibilities for making education and the college experience more accessible for students with special needs.
By opening doors and creating more educational opportunities — we all must be advocates for access in own spheres of influence. 

Hilary Hurd

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