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Newsday article: Wrong on diversity, wrong on standardized tests

KW writes: I was outraged by a recent Newsday article which put forth a possible theory for declining test scores. Link and excerpt from Newsday article first, my comments below:

(excerpt from) Newsday
Dip in statewide SAT scores blamed on student diversity

by John Hildebrand /September 13, 2010

A report was released showing New York students scores are dropping on the college admissions exam most often taken on Long Island and across the state – a decline that test sponsors link to increased diversity among student participants…

Exam sponsors at the Manhattan-based College Board say it is not unusual for scores to decline when the student testing pool becomes more diverse. This year, sponsors add, 42 percent of test takers in New York State were Asian, black or Hispanic – up from 32.2 percent in 2005 and 28.1 percent in 2000…

Re: Your article, “Dip in statewide SAT scores blamed on student diversity”

Dear Mr. Hildebrand,

Between your article allowing the test company to publicly state their commentary that diversity lowers test scores, and with the really, really bad headline (which I am not sure that you are responsible for), the article you wrote seems to imply that allowing people of diversity to take tests creates a harm for NY.

I believe that the article and headline could create racial tension by making people with white privilege think they would be better off if people of color were not in their schools, or their state. And, I think that the tone and accusations of your article could cause people of color to resent Newsday, and resent you as the author of the article.

I am not sure if you thought about those outcomes. I am not sure if you realize that your casual indifference to the insulting words of the test company could create such conflict.

In fact, standardized test scores are horribly over-rated and over-used. If tests have any place, that place should be to be used as a non-threatening, self-assessment tool for schools or districts. And, the imperfect accuracy of the tests should be taken into account, as well as the fact that the tests can’t test for many things, including the more important lessons in school and life.

In addition, saying that diversity lowers test scores is kind of circular logic. There is a cultural bias to any test. So, in the joyous moment of cultures combining, the new people in the culture won’t perform as well at the game that they don’t know all the rules for yet. It means pretty much nothing to say the test scores went down due to diversity.

The lower test scores in this instance mean nothing, except maybe as a way to feed into people’s fears about people who are “different”, and into people’s inadequacy that their school or state won’t do as well if they keep catering to new people and people who are “different”.

It is truly cruel to set one group against another in the way this article does, in a way that commenting publicly on test scores in this particular way does.

Perhaps in the future, when you go to write the word “diversity” you will consider running the article (and/or headline) by people of color. Or, perhaps, consult with a group such as the NAACP or Erase Racism, who have more familiarity and sensitivity to the issues of diversity than you do.

Thank you for your time.

Kimberly Wilder

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