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Testing for Cohesion, Not Competition

Testing for Cohesion, Not CompetitionLet us change roles for a moment, and see if the College Board can solve a few questions: What do high incomes and the SAT I produce? 
a) SAT preparation centers
b) tutors
c) scoring differentials due to financial capabilities 
d) all of the above 
Considering the past record of the College Board and its leadership, there are a few critical questions the board consistently ignores. Given the board’s latest action, avoidance of questions that concern the consequences of the test appear to be part of some type of antisocial testing strategy. If the College Board appears ambivalent to the test’s harmful societal consequences, then postsecondary institutions, governments and businesses must face the problems with courage and integrity. 
Amidst years of criticism and the University of California System’s recent threat of abandoning the SAT I, the College Board decided to restructure the 76-year-old admissions test  (see Black Issues, July 18). The board officials reported that the new test reflects new learning standards of U.S. school districts. The changes will be implemented in the spring of 2005. The major changes will include the addition of a writing section, new reading questions and more-advanced mathematics. College Board officials said the new test would relate more closely to high-school curriculums and more accurately predict a student’s performance in college. They suggest greater utility for colleges and universities.
Most of us can agree that tests are not inherently bad. Throughout our lives, we are presented with informal and formal tests. Some of these tests occur at the individual level. From the kindergartner to the Nobel laureate, we all make daily decisions that affect our quantitative and qualitative literacy. Some of these decisions are reflected in the SAT and should be valued by educational institutions. On the other hand, the life choices of students are most powerfully conveyed through high school grades and grade-point averages. Considering the vast array of evidence that proves the SAT does not predict college success anymore than grades and GPA, why take power away from our most significant evaluators, teachers by devaluing their measure of success? Educational potential must not be measured by a limited set of variables, which are more likely to reflect economic resources rather than academic potential. 
What are SAT scores most likely to predict?
a) college graduation
b) percentage of free and reduced lunches in school
c) income level of neighborhood
d) education level of parents
The societal consequences of individual units corroborating with the merits of academic tests have lead the country to realize more societal challenges. Given the festering terror, corporate malfeasance and violence that erode our everyday quality of life, our elite postsecondary institutions not only have to find measures of academic merit, we also must reward non-cognitive variables like character, tolerance, respect, thrift, discipline, and cohesion. In this contentious climate, a tremendous burden has been placed upon the shoulders of education to prepare leaders who practice the sacred values of democracy, tolerance, honesty, respect, community and cohesion. This point leads me to clarify one of the aforementioned variables of cohesion. According to Ken Strike, education philosopher, “Cohesion is the capacity to act collectively to achieve shared goals. It requires some willingness to restrain the pursuit of one’s own self-interest in order to do so.” 
The stark achievement gaps between Black and White, rich and poor hasten our institutions to take a cohesion test. In order to close these societal gaps, we must place our institutional competitiveness aside. For years, the SAT has prevented institutions of higher education from working collaboratively with the neediest primary and secondary schools. In particular, elite colleges and universities have competed against each other instead of actualizing a commitment to the state and working to improve community schools. Postsecondary institutions, however, are not only to blame. Colleges and universities can not de-emphasize the importance of the SAT without buy-in from its partners. Like individual postsecondary institutions, the iron triangle of government, communities and business must pass the cohesion test. Ensuring that every student has an equitable and well-rounded education will be the test of the century, and the only way to make this a reality is if all points of the triangle come together for the common good. 
If we are honest enough to take the cohesion test, then we must remove or greatly de-emphasize the SAT from our admissions standards. Our national security, economic future and social prosperity are dependent upon the passing of this (cohesion) test. 
Unfortunately because of power, money, prestige and networking, the College Board and its members abstain from taking this exam. Nonetheless, our communities and schools will inevitably face this challenge. When we do, I am sure that we will acknowledge that the SAT as well as other devices that limit our ability to educate the neediest of students were hindrances to the process.  — Andre Perry is president of the Black Graduate Student Association at the University of Maryland, College Park and a third- year doctoral student in education policy and leadership.

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