Southern Education Foundation Report Cites Test Misuse as a Cause of Segregation

University Testing

A recent Southern Education Foundation (SEF) report cites the misuse of standardized admissions tests as one reason for the failure of desegregation in the region's state university systems. Redeeming the American Promise concludes that little progress has been made toward increasing minority access to flagship public universities, closing the gap in graduation rates between white and non-white students, hiring more minority faculty, or creating a safe and hospitable climate for students of color on campuses.


According to the report, inappropriate admissions practices are one major obstacle to equal access. Many minority students successfully negotiate the hurdles placed before them in public schools only to find themselves arbitrarily excluded from higher education by the misuse of tests and test scores, the report states. SEF expresses concern about states and institutions use of test score cut-offs without regard to appropriate expert opinion. Mississippi, for example, established automatic score cut-offs governing access to its institutions despite a policy statement from the test developer that it was silly to do so.


The report suggests that universities should rely less on standardized test scores and instead place more weight on applicants high school grade point averages, courses taken, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities and community service criteria that are more closely related to the qualities students need to succeed in college. Too often, test scores are used to fulfill institutional needs for prestige rather than as genuine assessments of student potential, the report notes. It goes on to suggest that the concept of excellence in higher education needs to be expanded beyond the traditional emphasis on the credentials of the entering student. New emphasis should be placed on the talent developed and the value added by the academic experience.


Redeeming the American Promise makes the following recommendations to improve admissions policies for all students and enhance access and fairness.

  • Test results alone should never be a bar to admission to any institution.
  • Minimum admissions test scores, even considered in combination with high school grade point averages or rank in class, should always be justified by the institution s experience with student performance and should be regularly reviewed.
  • Alternative admissions procedures should be tried, e.g., heavier weighting of high school grade point averages and more demanding high school course work, indices based on socioeconomic background, automatic admissions for minimum grade point averages, or evidence of motivation and leadership.

While Redeeming the American Promise focuses on southern states that previously operated legally segregated sstems of higher education, the report s recommendations are relevant to any state s or institution s efforts to provide fair access and quality education to its students.


Redeeming the American Promise, SEF, 135 Auburn Ave. NE, 2nd floor, Atlanta GA 30303; (404) 523-0001 (free).