New York State Scholarship Program Criticized

By Lynn Olson — March 18, 1987 3 min read

If the state were again allowed to develop its own test, he said, he would prefer to use an achievement test based on the classes students take in high school, rather than a general test of scholastic ability.

Officials of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) and the New York Public Interest Research Group, a consumer organization, said that of the 1,000 Empire State Scholarships awarded this year on the basis of scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing program’s examination, 67 percent went to males and 27 percent to females.

The figures were based on a review of recipients’ names, the groups said. They said that the gender of the remaining recipients could not be determined from official lists.

In addition, they said, more than half of the state’s 25,000 Regents Scholarships--which offer a smaller monetary award--went to men.

Cost Millions

“New York State is using tests which consistently underpredict girls’ performance to award scholarships,’' said Blair Horner, program coordinator for NYPIRG. “The S.A.T. and A.C.T. cost girls and their families millions in college tuition aid.’'

According to John Weiss, executive director of FairTest, at least a dozen other scholarship programs nationwide also make their awards on the basis of standardized test scores.

Nationally, female students average 61 points lower than males on the S.A.T.: 50 points less on the mathematics portion of the test, and 11 points less on the verbal section. Females also score lower than males on the A.C.T.

In contrast, according to the advocacy groups, average freshman grades in college are higher for women than for men.

Neither the groups nor the state department of education could provide data on the total number of men and women who were in competition for the New York State scholarships this year. According to FairTest, however, 65,322 males and 71,620 females in New York State took the S.A.T. in 1986.

Required by Law

Winsor A. Lott, director of educational testing in the New York education department, said that the state legislature has required the department to use nationally administered tests to award the scholarships for the past 10 years.

Before then, the state used an internally developed examination that measured both achievement and ability, he said.

Mr. Lott noted that “the state had to underwrite the cost of our own scholarship examination, whereas individual students pay for the S.A.T. and the A.C.T.’'

Lawmakers argued that since students took the college-admissions tests in any case, the state-developed examination was unnecessary.

Mr. Lott said the department had submitted proposals to the legislature in the past that would have allowed it to go back to administering its own test to determine the scholarship awards. “I don’t know at this point whether or not the department will try again,’' he said.

Mr. Weiss of FairTest argued that the state should adopt a system that would allocate scholarships on the basis of either grades alone or a combination of grades and test scores.

“Girls do better on grades, and they are a much better predictor of how well people will do in college,’' he said.

The two advocacy groups also support proposed legislation in New York State that would require test publishers to provide a state commission with data to examine test questions for bias.

Differing Results

Mr. Lott said there is “no question’’ that the college-admissions tests produce differing results for men and women. But the disparities could result from a number of factors, he said, including differences in the courses males and females take in high school.

Because of the care with which the test developers eliminate biased items, he argued, “it’s hard for me to understand how the tests could be biased against women.’'

If the state were again allowed to develop its own test, he said, he would prefer to use an achievement test based on the classes students take in high school, rather than a general test of scholastic ability.

The Empire State Scholarships provide each recipient with $2,000 a year for four or five years. The Regents Scholarships provide $250 a year for the same period.

The scholarships are awarded to high-school seniors who have taken the S.A.T. or A.C.T., and who agree to attend a college or university within the state.