Equity & Diversity

Leslie Wolfe, Equity Researcher Who Scrutinized SAT, Dies at 74

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 21, 2017 1 min read
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Leslie Wolfe, a longtime researcher of women’s issues and equity in education and a co-author of a landmark study on the gender gap on college placement tests, died Nov. 30. She was 74.

Wolfe, who led the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington from 1987 until it shut down in 2015, is perhaps best known for co-authoring a 1989 study of gender and racial gaps on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. While the admissions test was billed as predicting students’ later performance in college, Wolfe and co-author Phyllis Rosser found that, while boys consistently outperformed girls on the test in math—and were more likely than girls to meet minimum score cutoffs for math programs—girls performed much better in college courses than their scores would have predicted. The following year, she was part of a broad coalition that urged President George H.W. Bush not to use standardized tests for accountability purposes.

Wolfe also led the federal Women’s Educational Equity Act program from 1979 to 1982. That program provided grants to study and develop model programs and curriculums to promote equal educational opportunities for girls, including a hotly debated “Embers” reading curriculum that highlighted equity issues, such as Rosa Parks’ role in the Civil Rights movement. At the time, she told Education Week that she felt such books for young readers would “go a long way toward breaking down stereotypes.”

Wolfe defended the equity grant program from conservative critics who saw it as a tool for “openly radical feminist groups,” but she was later removed shortly before the Regan administration reorganized the grants.

Wolfe earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1965, a master’s from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1967, and a doctorate from the University of Florida in 1970. She also previously served as an assistant English professor at Olivet College in Michigan.

Wolfe died of complications from dementia, the New York Times reported. She is survived by her brother, Stanley Rosenberg.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.