National News Roundup

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The National Center for Fair & Open Testing last week asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine the tax-exempt status of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

In a letter to irs Commissioner Fred T. Goldberg, Cinthia Schuman, the center's executive director, and Sarah Stockwell, the center's university testing coordinator, charged that the merit-scholarship corporation discriminates against women and minorities because the scholarships are based solely on scores on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

The test unfairly favors whites and males, the testing watchdog group charges in its letter. The center argues that grades, course difficulty, and leadership are other factors to consider in awarding such schol6arships.

In 1989, 6,290 high-school seniors received roughly $25 million in scholarships. About 64 percent of the recipients were males, according to corporation figures; no racial or ethnic breakdowns are available.

In the letter, FairTest cited the irs's 1983 decision revoking the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of racial discrimination.

FairTest officials said the request is the first time the group has asked for an irs investigation of the scholars program.

Corporate America must share the blame for burgeoning illiteracy rates because of its reluctance to test reading skills, set up literacy programs, or even demand high-school transcripts, a new national study asserts.

More than 70 percent of the 163 large companies surveyed did not formally test entry-level job candidates for reading and writing skills, according to a study released this month by the Conference Board, a business coalition dedicated to education reform. Most firms did not know how many of their workers were literate, the study said. Fewer than half said they asked to see a dior transcript.

"It seems to employers that each succeeding high-school class is less employable than its predecessor," said Leonard Lund, education-program director of the Conference Board. "Yet they have not signaled to young people that school attendance and performance is directly related to acquiring and holding a job."

Acknowledging that business has been reluctant to examine the problem, the study notes that minimal reading skills have already begun to hurt workplace performance. About 14 percent of the firms surveyed said they can trace a variety of problems to illiteracy, ranging from clerks getting the facts wrong on instructions to plant workers allowing machinery to break down.

Executives interviewed for the report suggested goals for a business "literacy agenda," including developing a universal system to assess workplace literacy, creating a national literacy test for 11th graders, and pushing for more employer coalitions to support literacy programs.

Vol. 10, Issue 08

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