Test-Makers Dodge Legal Implications

University Testing

Like tobacco company executives who distort the truth and cover up their own research to preserve their product's image, those who profit by promoting standardized tests are scrambling to deny that the National Merit settlement represented an admission that the exam was flawed and dangerous. For example, College Board President Donald Stewart grossly misstated several significant facts in a letter responding to a New York Times editorial endorsing FairTest's critique of gender bias in the SAT.

Dr. Stewart claimed the Times misread a study by two researchers at the Educational Testing Service, the company that manufactures and administers the PSAT and SAT for the College Board. But that report clearly concludes that the SAT underpredicts the math grades of women in college courses and urges that test scores not be used as the sole factor to select National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists (see Examiner, Summer 1993).

Similarly, Dr. Stewart's letter was misleading in stating that this study is inconsistent with the larger body of research on gender differences in academic abilities. In fact, a large number of reports, several of which were published by the College Board itself, show that girls perform as well or better than boys in both high school and college when matched for identical courses. It is the SAT and similar fast-paced, multiple-choice tests that are out of synch with measures of genuine academic merit.

Dr. Stewart also argued that the study covered only one school even though the authors state that it is based on 47,000 students at 51 colleges and universities. In-depth research at many schools, such as the University of California at Berkeley (see Examiner, Summer 1995) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, confirm the same point: the SAT falls far short of its sole advertised claim the accurate prediction of first year college grades by consistently underestimating the academic performance of females.

Dr. Stewart, a member of the New York Times Corporation Board of Directors, apparently managed to get his letter published without any fact checking. He owes the paper's editorial board an apology for accusing them of sloppy research. Even more importantly, he should make amends to the more than one million young women each year who take College Board tests by eliminating their exams gender bias. It's time for exam-makers to tell the truth by acknowledging that test scores do not accurately measure merit.