Education

Testing

March 26, 1997 2 min read
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A feminist policy group in Washington is launching a campaign that argues that the SAT is biased against girls because boys consistently score higher on the widely used college-entrance test.

The Center for Women Policy Studies plans to involve members of Congress and state legislators in its cause and to try to persuade college officials either to drop the use of the SAT in admissions decisions or at least take into account the lower scores of girls. The group has also established a toll-free telephone number, (888) SAT-BIAS, for information and advocacy materials.

Nearly 1.8 million students take the SAT I: Reasoning Test every year. Girls’ average score last year on the verbal section of the exam was 503 on a 200-to-800-point scale, while boys scored 507 on average. On the mathematics section, the gap was greater, with girls reaching 492 and boys 527.

In a statement issued this month, the New York City-based College Board, which sponsors the test, said that the variations in average scores “are not the result of bias, but reflect differences in academic preparation as well as other educational and socioeconomic factors.” For instance, female students take fewer and less rigorous math and science courses than male students, the College Board said.

Several national test publishers have agreed to drop some standardized-test questions for students that the California state school board said run afoul of a state law barring items that are too personal. The same complaint helped bring down the now-defunct California Learning Assessment System.

A parent panel reviewed 75 test series this winter containing thousands of items and found just 15 on a handful of test series that appeared to violate the law. State law prohibits questions that solicit or invite disclosure of certain personal beliefs and items designed to evaluate students’ behavioral characteristics, such as honesty, integrity, sociability, or self-esteem.

The state board this month approved the parent group’s recommendations. In response, the publishers elected to pull the offending items, several of which were designed to evaluate writing, said Greg Geeting, the executive director of the California board. Among the tests with unacceptable items were the Stanford Achievement Test series, the New Standards project’s California Reference Examination, and the Metropolitan Achievement Tests.

Districts that want to receive a $5-per-pupil incentive must use one of the state-approved off-the-shelf standardized tests.

--MILLICENT LAWTON mlawton@epe.org

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