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Public Enemy Number One!


An overwhelming majority of voters in California passed Proposition 209 to end affirmative action precisely because they were fed up with the success of public servants like University of California president Richard C. Atkinson at dumbing down the US education process--a process which made the US dead last in 17 of 34 TIMSS subjects, and Mr. Atkinson's state of California dead last within the US on many of these standardized tests he despises.  The voters recognized that to discriminate against one group just to give special privileges to another group is AMORAL, and so should Mr. Atkinson.  Whether or not it's the intent of Mr. Atkinson to tell the voters who pay his salary to just shove it, this is exactly what he's doing. 

Americans are not so stupid as to not recognize an advocate for totalitarian government when they see one.  Mr. Atkinson wants parents to believe that educators like him can be trusted to do their jobs without the oversight of objective, independent, third party analyses of their performance, which is all the SAT I test is, in spite of decades of dumbing the test down to try to achieve "equality" amongst the sexes and races.  But he's not concerned about achieving "equality"--he's concerned that these objective tests will continue to reveal just how bad has been his and his associates' performance.  Without these objective tests, you wouldn't know how bad, but with them, you know exactly which public servant is doing his job and which isn't.

Don't let him fool you.


November 17, 2001

Usefulness of SAT Test Is Debated in California


Monica Almeida/The New York TimesRichard C. Atkinson, left, the University of California president, heard from Gaston Caperton, center, the College Board president, and Richard Ferguson, the head of ACT Inc., which writes a rival exam to the SAT.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Nov. 16 — The battle for the SAT's future in California and perhaps other parts of the nation was joined here today when the leading educator opposed to the influential college entrance exam debated its usefulness with the head of the company that oversees it.

The president of the University of California, who has proposed that his college system no longer require applicants to take the main SAT test, and the president of the College Board, which administers it, spoke out in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the system's faculty members, who will play a crucial role in deciding whether to continue using the test.

The California system includes prestigious campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles and is the SAT's largest customer. The respect it gets from the College Board — and the influence it carries with other systems across the country — was evidenced by the size of the delegation the board dispatched to a research conference on testing at the university's campus here. The College Board president, Gaston Caperton, arrived from his New York headquarters with eight top aides.

Nine months ago, the university president, Richard C. Atkinson, recommended that the California system, which is among the nation's largest, stop requiring its applicants to take the main SAT exam. He contended that the tests had distracted students from their primary subjects and made it more difficult for many black and Hispanic applicants to get accepted into top colleges.

Since then, just one other selective public or private institution — Hamilton College in upstate New York — has said it would follow suit. But that could change if the regents who govern the California system, which has 130,000 undergraduates, adopt Dr. Atkinson's proposal.

Before the 26-member Board of Regents can take up the president's proposal, the plan must be approved by a series of faculty committees, which are expected to act early next year. That is why today's forum was considered so important. The regents have said that if the president's proposal reaches their desks, they would take it up no later than next summer. If adopted, it could take effect as soon as the fall of 2003.

In addressing 300 professors, administrators and admissions officers this morning, most of them drawn from the system's eight undergraduate campuses, Dr. Atkinson argued that the main SAT exam, formally known as the SAT I, failed to assess what was most important to colleges.

"The SAT I sends a confusing message to students, teachers, and schools," Dr. Atkinson said. "It says that students will be tested on material that is unrelated to what they study in their classes. It says that the grades they achieve can be devalued by a test that is not part of their school curriculum."

Dr. Atkinson has proposed that the California system rely, temporarily, on another series of College Board exams, the SAT II's, which are intended to measure student achievement in specific subjects, rather than general aptitude or reasoning in mathematics, vocabulary, reading and other areas. But Dr. Atkinson has proposed that those exams, too, be phased out in favor of a series of new exams that would be designed specifically to test what California students learn in high school.

Mr. Caperton, saying he regarded California as a "bellwether" that was always "a year or two ahead of everyone else," urged the conferees to stick with both sets of SAT exams. When combined, he said, the SAT I and II provided the most accurate statistical snapshot of how a student thought and had performed in school.

"I tried to be nice when he said all those bad things about the SAT I," Mr. Caperton, a former governor of West Virginia, said of Dr. Atkinson.

Mr. Caperton argued that the SAT I had changed drastically since its start more than 50 years ago, and he likened its evolution to that of a Chevrolet over the same period. The SAT I, he said, was unmatched in its capacity to evaluate a student's "ability to think in words and numbers," which he called a "very critical part of getting an education in college and doing well in college."

Mr. Caperton delivered his remarks with some confidence, aware that his position enjoys the support of an overwhelming majority of the members of the College Board, a nonprofit consortium of 4,000 colleges and high schools that includes the California system.

Even so, Mr. Caperton drew fire from another front: Richard Ferguson, the president of ACT Inc., which produces a rival admissions exam, lobbied conferees to replace the SAT with his company's test, which, he said, was already achievement-oriented, and "the equivalent of five SAT II's."

California education officials began focusing in earnest on the disparities in the SAT scores of blacks and Hispanics when compared with those of whites after the regents voted in 1995 to bar race as a consideration in admission to the public university system.

While that state policy has made it harder for some minority applicants to gain acceptance to the university system, the elimination of the SAT would probably have the effect of easing their admission.

On Thursday, the regents voted to approve a companion proposal by Dr. Atkinson to broaden the criteria by which applicants to the California system are judged.

In addition to standardized test scores and grade point averages, applicants will now be rated in a dozen other categories, including special talents, leadership skills and accomplishments in the face of "personal challenges," including economic hardship. The model closely resembles those that dozens of highly selective private colleges have used for more than a generation.

While many faculty members who attended today's conference said they were keeping an open mind about the SAT, they conceded that they shared Dr. Atkinson's contentions that the tests had come to dominate students' preparation for college and had served to draw a rough line between those students who had grown up with a rich intellectual home life, and those who had not.

Richard Watts, a professor of chemistry here who is a member of the committee that will cast the final faculty vote for or against the SAT, said he had attended all the research presentations on subjects including whether the SAT II was a better predictor than the SAT I of a freshman's grade point average. (Dr. Atkinson's research shows that it is; Mr. Caperton's shows that it is not.)

Dr. Watts said he was inclined to follow the lead of Dr. Atkinson, who, he said, had "usually been on target, in terms of recommending things the faculty will come to agree on."




February 17, 2001

Excerpt From Speech on SAT Scores

Following is an excerpt from remarks by Richard C. Atkinson, president of the University of California, prepared for delivery on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education in Washington, in which he recommends that the university system no longer require the SAT for admission:

Let me describe how I came to make these recommendations. For many years, I have worried about the use of the SAT, but last year my concerns coalesced. I visited an upscale private school and observed a class of 12-year- old students studying verbal analogies in anticipation of the SAT. I learned that they spend hours each month — directly and indirectly — preparing for the SAT, studying long lists of verbal analogies such as "untruthful is to mendaciousness" as "circumspect is to caution." The time involved was not aimed at developing the students' reading and writing abilities but rather their test-taking skills.

What I saw was disturbing and prompted me to spend time taking sample SAT tests and reviewing the literature. I concluded what many others have concluded: that America's overemphasis on the SAT is compromising our educational system.


February 24, 2001

Most Colleges Are Expected to Continue to Use the SAT


As the University of California weighs a recommendation by its president to drop the SAT's as an admissions requirement, the vast majority of the nation's highly selective institutions, as well as other large public universities, are expected to rely on the tests for the foreseeable future.

The proposal last Friday by the president of the California system, which has such flagship campuses as Berkeley and U.C.L.A. and gives out one of every 50 American bachelor's degrees yearly, has added fresh fuel to the decades-old debate within admissions offices over the merits of the SAT's. But interviews in recent days with administrators from half a dozen other colleges and universities suggest that there may be no other institution that will immediately follow California's lead.

"I'm not ready to throw out the SAT," said Jack Blackburn, the dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of Virginia since 1985. "I think it's a very good test. It's been given to millions of people. If used properly, it provides a good piece of information about an applicant.

"I think the bad stories come from places that don't know how to use it."

All of the university officials interviewed, from Harvard to Stanford, and from the University of Michigan to the University of Texas at San Antonio, said they continued to regard the SAT's as the best instrument available for establishing a common national yardstick, one that allows them to compare, say, an A- student from an underfinanced high school in a rural state with an A- student in a top-flight suburban school.

The officials cautioned that most institutions weigh the SAT differently in different situations, depending, for example, on whether the applicant is the son of an accomplished lawyer or the son of parents who never completed high school, and whether one applicant is white and another black.

At the same time they echoed the concerns of the president of the California system, Dr. Richard C. Atkinson, about the tests' shortcomings and about the ways that the SAT's have come to dominate the lives of so many American teenagers, who often view them as nothing less than a barometer of their own potential.

All of the officials acknowledged that the scores on the SAT I, an aptitude test (the SAT II's is an achievement text tied more closely to course work), and the ACT, a similar standardized exam, often reveal more about students' family lives, socio-economic station and school quality than about their prospects for succeeding in four years of college and beyond. But over all they said they planned to continue to consult the SAT scores.

"It's the only standard factor in every student's application," said Robin Mamlet, the dean of admission and financial aid at Stanford University since September. "But we're also aware that students from different kinds of backgrounds score very differently."

Ms. Mamlet added: "One of the things Atkinson's saying is that they're going to move to a more holistic approach. But most of the nation's really selective institutions have mastered giving a holistic approach to their admissions, while still using the SAT. It's not a dichotomy."

If the University of California system does make the SAT's optional, it would become, by far, the largest institution on a small list of defectors that includes Bates, Bowdoin and Mount Holyoke Colleges.

But California's timetable in abandoning the SAT would be drawn out. If Dr. Atkinson can persuade the faculty senate and the Board of Regents to adopt his proposal, it would not take effect until 2003 at the earliest; the full impact of the proposal, if implemented, will not be known for years.

"We are caught up in the educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race," Dr. Atkinson said in a speech last weekend. "We know that this overemphasis on test scores hurts all involved, especially students. But we also know that anyone or any institution opting out of the competition does so at considerable risk."

In taking the first step down that path, the California system is responding to immense outside political pressures. In 1996, the state's voters banned the consideration of race and ethnicity in determining college admission. Doing away with the SAT's as a requirement would eliminate a measurement on which the performances of black and Hispanic students have trailed significantly behind white and Asian students.

In 1996, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit barred the consideration of race in university admissions in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Like California, Texas now guarantees a seat in the University of Texas system to all students who are ranked at a particular level in their high school class, regardless of SAT scores.

But Ricardo Romo, the president of the University of Texas at San Antonio, said he did not expect the Regents of the University of Texas system to move any time soon to drop the SAT's at any of its campuses as a way of further complying with the federal ruling.

"There's a significant number of people out there — they're parents, they're ministers, they're business people — who have bought into the SAT," Mr. Romo said. "They believe it is very good currency. For you to say we're not going to use this currency any more, it would come as a shock."

Nonetheless, Mr. Romo said the California proposal was already receiving serious scrutiny on his campus, and others in the Texas system.

"Atkinson's sort of landed on the moon," Mr. Romo said. "The rest of us are looking at the opportunities of space exploration."


February 17, 2001

Head of U. of California Seeks to End SAT Use in Admissions


Join a Discussion on Standardized Testing

Excerpt From Speech on SAT Scores

Related Articles
Issue in Depth: Education

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 — Contending that standardized college tests have distorted the way young people learn and worsened educational inequities, the president of the University of California is proposing an end to the use of SAT's as a requirement for admission to the state university system he oversees, one of the largest and most prestigious.

The proposal by the president, Richard C. Atkinson, will need the approval of the faculty senate and the university system's governing board of regents. Though university officials would not predict how either body would vote, Michael Reese, a spokesman for the University of California, said the faculty appeared to embrace the president's proposal. He added that if adopted it could take effect as early as 2003.

In a letter Dr. Atkinson sent to the University of California's faculty senate today and in a speech he will give here on Sunday to the American Council on Education, an advance copy of which the school released tonight, Dr. Atkinson criticized the reliance on SAT's to rank students for admission to schools, saying that they are "not compatible with the American view on how merit should be defined and opportunities distributed."

If adopted, the proposed move to abandon the SAT's, taken by more than 1.2 million high school seniors applying for college each year, is expected to echo throughout the world of higher education. It follows similar moves by smaller schools, including Bates, Bowdoin and Mount Holyoke colleges, to make SAT's optional.

Dr. Atkinson's decision, which would apply to both in-state and out-of-state students, came several years after a university faculty committee urged that the SAT's be made optional to increase the number of black and Hispanic students gaining admission. Earlier, California had banned the use of race and ethnicity for college admission. Like other school officials around the country Dr. Atkinson has sought to balance the values of diversity and academic quality.

Under his proposal, the university would drop the requirement that applicants submit scores from the SAT I, an aptitude test, but continue to require the so- called SAT II, which tests students in subject areas, including English, math, history, science and foreign languages. Along with the SAT I, the University of California would also drop the use of the ACT test, another standardized test, which students were allowed to submit as an alternative to the SAT I.

Mr. Reese said some members of the board of regents would probably seek assurances from Dr. Atkinson that the quality of the student body would not suffer by dropping the SAT requirement.

Dr. Atkinson oversees nine campuses, eight of them with undergraduates, to which 91,904 high school seniors applied for admission this year. He said the SAT's did not measure mastery of specific subjects required for admission to the school, so much as an ill-defined aptitude. He talked about visiting classrooms where 12-year-old's spent hours studying lists of analogies, a central feature of the SAT.

"The time involved was not aimed at developing the students' reading and writing abilities but rather their test-taking skills," Dr. Atkinson wrote. "I concluded what many others have concluded — that America's overemphasis on the SAT is compromising our educational system."

"Change is long overdue," he wrote.

Gaston Caperton, the former Governor of West Virginia who is president of the College Board, said he did not consider Dr. Atkinson's coming speech a crisis for his company, which first developed standardized tests for colleges in 1901. The College Board owns the SATs, which are administered by the Princeton-based Educational Testing Service.

Mr. Caperton defended the exams as reliable predictors of a student's grades in college. "It is a national standard that cuts across state lines, and it really measures high achievement," Mr. Caperton said. To the criticism that SAT's did not reflect mastery of a specific knowledge, Mr. Caperton said the test was more sophisticated, because "it takes into account not just what they've learned, but critical thinking, which is what life is all about."

Stanley O. Ikenberry, the president of American Council on Education, said Dr. Atkinson's move to drop SAT's would likely "fuel a national dialogue on college admissions, simply because the University of California is one of the largest university systems in the United States, and many would say it is the premiere higher education system in the country."

Dr. Atkinson's proposal would have to be passed by two policy- making bodies within the university system before it takes effect, said Brad Hayward, a spokesman for the University of California system. The recommendation would first likely be reviewed by a committee of a dozen or so teachers within the academic senate, which has thousands of teachers drawn from the nine campuses. If the Senate supports the proposal, then the 26 members of the Board of Regents would vote on it. Only then would it go into effect.

When they were first developed, college admissions tests were envisioned as a way to transform a university system built around class into one based on merit. Youngsters without a prep school education, or whose paretns were not alumni, could overcome objections about their ability with objectively-measured test scores. But the tests, on which blacks and Hispanics generally score lower than whites, have also come under severe criticism by those who contend they reflect and aggravate racial inequalities.

In addition, the tests, which have become the gatekeeper to many top- tier colleges, have spawned a nationwide preoccupation with test taking. Nearly 90 percent of four-year colleges and universities require the SATs for admission.

Bob Schaefer, president of an an anti-SAT organization called FairTest, predicted that Dr. Atkinson's proposal would extend a debate on the validity of the tests, which has so far been limited to smaller schools, to larger colleges and universities. "If what Atkinson recommends becomes policy, there'll be no excuse for other large universities not to follow suit," Mr. Schaefer said.

Nicholas Lemann, author of "The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999) noted that the University of California system played a critical role in establishing the prominence of the Educational Testing Service in American universities. "When Atkinson gives this speech, it will not be a happy day for the E.T.S.," he said.

But others, like Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard University and co-author of "The Shape of the River: Long Term consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions," said other universities would not necessarily follow the University of California's proposed move to drop the SAT's.

Dr. Bok's 1998 book, written with William G. Bowen, a former president of Princeton, examined 28 colleges and universities employing racially sensitive admissions policies, and tracked the long-term effects of having attended institutions with diverse student bodies. He was reluctant to comment on another college president's suggestion, but said he did not expect Harvard eliminating its SAT requirement.

Dr. Atkinson is proposing eventually dropping the SAT II tests, at least until other tests tailored to measure the curricula taught in California high schools can be developed. Ultimately, he said, he would like to move away from numerical measurements of student aptitude, and encourage a more "holistic" approach to evaluating candidates.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for the University of California will be physical, given the size of its applicant pool.

The university system has already chipped away at the pre-eminence of the SAT's, by allowing students in the top four percent of their high school class to bypass the standardized tests in applying for admission.

Dr. Ikenberry, whose council represents 1800 colleges and universities, said elementary schools and universities seemed to be moving in different directions. At public elementary and secondary schools, the national obsession has focused on accountability and testing. At colleges, however, the fear is that tests may have become too powerful as a tool for admissions.

He said he believed proposals like Dr. Atkinson's could have profound effects on students and, ultimately, those who developed standardized admissions tests. Playing down test scores "will mean greater emphasis being placed on high school achievement and high school grades," Dr. Ikenberry said.

"What it will mean is that colleges and universities will be looking more closely at individual courses being taken by students and their achievements in those courses rather than trying to sum it all up in a test score," he said.