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Prof. Brittain: Book Chapter "Reducing Reliance on Testing to Promote Diversity"

Tuesday, June 17, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Libertelli
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Congrats to UDC Law Professor John Brittain who has co-authored a chapter of a new book called "The Future of Affirmative Action: New Paths to Higher Education Diversity after Fisher v. University of Texas.  (See  

A synopsis of Chapter 13 entitled, "Reducing Reliance on Testing to Promote Diversity," is included below the photograph.

InChapter 13, John Brittain, of the University of the District of Columbia Law School and former chief counsel of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and his coauthor Benjamin Landy, an editor at MSNBC, suggest applying more widely the other aspect of the Texas Top 10 Percent plan: reduced reliance on standardized tests.

Brittain and Landy note that standardized tests like the SAT were born with egalitarian intentions, to help colleges “identify talented students from unknown schools and unspectacular backgrounds,” thereby replacing “the old boys club” that dominated selective colleges with a meritocracy.82 But in practice, the SAT and ACT have come to exclude large numbers of low-income and minority students, who score lower on average on tests which carry with them very high stakes. “A good score can open the doors to some of the world’s most elite institutions, wealthy alumni networks and prestigious job opportunities,” Brittain and Landy say. “A low score threatens to close those doors forever.”83

The authors note that high school grades are a better predictor of college performance than SAT scores, and have a much less discriminatory impact against minority students. Yet reliance on test scores by universities admissions officers has actually increased in recent years. In part, the authors blame U.S. News & World Report college rankings, which favor schools with high student test scores. In addition, civil rights groups, Brittain and Landy suggest, have made a “Faustian bargain” with universities in which civil rights advocates have not challenged the racially discriminatory impact of the SAT so long as universities provide affirmative action. “Historically,” the authors write, “there appears to have been a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between civil rights groups and colleges,” which “has no parallel in the employment context, where there have been numerous legal challenges to the discriminatory impact of testing.”84

If affirmative action is further constrained, the authors suggest the reticence to litigate the SAT may change. Even in the absence of litigation, the authors recommend that universities reduce their reliance on tests like the SAT. Despite variation in grading standards among high schools, Brittain and Landy contend that a heavier reliance on high school grades would not result in the admission of unqualified students. Nearly 850 colleges and universities have already gone “test-optional,” Brittain and Landy note, including leading institutions such as Bowdoin, Smith, Bates, and Wake Forest. At Wake Forest, retention rates remain very high under the test-optional approach, and diversity has blossomed. Both the proportion of students eligible for Pell grants and the percentage of blacks and Hispanics increased significantly.85 The authors conclude that in the coming years, reducing the over-reliance on test scores could be an important avenue to increase racial, ethnic, and economic diversity and “would make our college admissions system fairer for everyone.”86

The third bucket of race-neutral strategies involves policies providing a leg up in admissions to economically disadvantaged students of all races. The very early research on the issue suggested that preferences for low-income students would not produce much racial and ethnic diversity because low-income white students outnumber low-income black and Hispanic students, particularly among high-achievers.87 But more recent research—which defines socioeconomic status in more nuanced ways—suggests that this strategy can produce considerable racial and ethnic diversity.

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