Commentary Magazine

Test Scores Vs. Discrimination

To the editor:

In “Gateway to the Colleges” (June), Spencer Brown seems to doubt the validity of testing the “knowledge or skill” of a college applicant through the multiple-choice questions used by the College Entrance Examination Board. I fully agree that many mental qualities cannot be measured by this kind of testing. These test results, however, are only one of a number of factors influencing admissions decisions. Their principal value, the College Board directors say, is to provide a sharper description of the candidate’s mind and increase the accuracy with which his performance in college courses can be predicted.

Discrimination would be much more prevalent than it now is if there were no method of standardizing college aptitude. Differential treatment of Jewish applicants has occurred most frequently where the admissions process has unduly weighted qualities which cannot be measured by objective tests. When New York and Kansas City applicants can be compared by means of the same measuring rod, it is much more difficult for a college to make discriminatory admissions decisions.

Lawrence Bloomgarden
American Jewish Committee
New York City



Mr. Brown writes:

I am grateful to Mr. Bloomgarden for bringing up an important point that I did not have space to deal with in my article. If he is right, and I hope he is, he has adduced a powerful argument for the College Board examinations—though not necessarily for their present form. Yet I suspect he may be unduly optimistic. Racial or religious discrimination can be practiced with or without examination scores. Naturally, whenever other things are equal, the candidate with the higher scores is preferred. But other things never are equal. And social “acceptability” or extra-curricular zeal or “leadership” or some other more or less imaginary quality may be used as a criterion for unfair selection. In Mr. Bloomgarden’s illustration, I should guess that the candidate from Kansas City (or a fortiori from Laramie) is practically always preferred, at an Eastern college, to the candidate from New York unless their College Board scores are grotesquely disparate. “Geographical distribution” is still a formidable hindrance to fairness in college admissions.

I should be sorry if my article gave Mr. Bloomgarden the impression that I wished to abolish the examinations. Fortunately, that would be about as difficult as abolishing income taxes. I am in favor of standards and examinations; but I know the present examinations need radical revision.



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