June 12, 2019
Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
“Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards,” then-presidential candidate George W. Bush famously said in 1999. “I say it is discrimination to require anything less—the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Twenty years later, the bigotry is no softer. It is prejudice of the hardest sort to base assumptions of intelligence, aptitude, and work ethic on demographic makeup, and basing educational criteria and public policy on this assumption is no less than abject injustice.
Of course, it’s never labeled as such. In 2019, it’s called “progress.”
Marquette University has become the latest educational institution to succumb to ironically bigoted wokeness by weakening its admissions standards in the name of diversity. On Monday, the school announced that it will no longer require prospective students to submit SAT and/or ACT scores as part of their applications.
“Our Catholic, Jesuit mission calls on us to keep a Marquette education accessible to a diverse population of students,” Marquette University President Michael Lovell said in a news release. “We will further open our doors by making standardized test scores optional in our undergraduate admissions process.”
Implicit in this virtue-signaling is the presumption that Marquette is currently inaccessible to this population and that its inability to perform on standardized tests is the reason.
We know you can’t possibly get the same scores as non-diverse student populations, Lovell seems to be saying, so don’t even bother submitting them.
Last month, the SAT itself endorsed a similar belief when the College Board, the organization that administers the test, announced that each student who takes it will now be assigned an “adversity score” that is “calculated using 15 factors including the crime rate and poverty levels from the student’s high school and neighborhood.”
Naturally, the more “adversity” a student faces, the more school admissions officers will use the score to justify accepting a student whose test performance would otherwise preclude admittance.
“The purpose is to get to race without using race,” former College Board executive Anthony Carnevale told the Wall Street Journal.
The College Board, which has “worried about income inequality influencing test results for years,” noted that “white students scored an average of 177 points higher than black students and 133 points higher than Hispanic students in 2018 results.”
The organization’s solution is to simply give those black and Hispanic students (whom it rather prejudicially assumes must be poor) both an artificial boost and a reinforcement of the racist idea that they are somehow intellectually and academically inferior to their white peers based on nothing more than their race and demographic background.
Marquette has taken this a step further, telling these students that even submitting their (obviously lower) test scores would be a fool’s errand.
“Students can decide how to best represent their capacity for success at the college level,” said Marquette Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Brian Troyer. “We believe students are who they are because of their life experiences, work ethic, and their engagement in and out of the classroom.”
Clearly, Marquette is more concerned with “life experiences” outside of the classroom than actual performance in it. Admissions tests—for both undergraduate and postgraduate programs—have long been required because of their ability to objectively gauge the level of knowledge a student has acquired in his or her education thus far.
These tests aren’t measurements of intelligence, but rather of academic ability and thus serve as a sort of final exam to determine whether a student is well-suited to move on to the next level of education.
As much as the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state-led Common Core standards have attempted to make curriculum more uniform, grade inflation and differences in grade distribution across schools have made it difficult to objectively assess students’ relative aptitude. An “A” in one high school might be a “B” in a more demanding school, yet the “B” student might be far better prepared for a given university than the “A” student.
The SAT and ACT have long helped determine this. A “B” student with a 34 on the ACT might thus be a more worthy candidate for admission than the “A” student with a 22.
Marquette, however, will now have no idea. In replacing objective measurement with subjective feel-goodism, the school is setting both its students and itself up for failure.
In 2017, a report from The Education Trust found that only one in five black students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) graduated within six years and that the “completion gap between black and white students is 24.3 percentage points.”
The painfully obvious reason is that UWM was accepting students who could not keep up with the coursework. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, “about 35 percent of UWM’s incoming freshmen graduate in the bottom half of their high school class. And the most recent four-year graduation rate for black students in Milwaukee Public Schools — a major feeder school district for UWM — is 54.7 percent.”
UWM itself reports that “30 percent of all students and 40 percent of underrepresented students fail to return for a second year.” One of the more common reasons cited is frustration with the remedial classes underperforming students must take before they are even able to take courses for credit.
“Math anxiety and the time it takes to complete enough mathematics coursework to earn credit have been major stumbling blocks to student success,” said UWM math professor Kyle Swanson, who helped oversee the development of the school’s remedial studies program in 2014 to counter the problem of students showing up on campus unprepared for college-level courses.
The necessity of such a program highlights the necessity of objective standards of admission such as test scores, which are predictive of which students are likeliest to be able to keep up with a given university’s workload. So long as there are still final exams that count for a substantial percentage of (if not all of) final grades, students will still have to perform on tests. An admissions exam is therefore a sort of dry run.
Eliminating it as a requirement not only robs a school of a valuable tool in determining whether a student will be able to keep up, it robs the student of a fair assessment of his or her academic fit with the school. With Marquette’s tuition topping $41,000, dropping out after a year or taking six years to graduate would be financially devastating—particularly to the very same lower-income and non-traditional students that Marquette’s new policy is aimed at helping.
The harsh reality is that no one benefits when students matriculate to schools for which they are unprepared, as no amount of “life experience” can replace an honest measurement of academic proficiency.
No longer requiring prospective students to demonstrate this proficiency may make Marquette feel better about how diverse it is, but the school is simultaneously setting these students up for potential failure while exposing its own implicit biases about them.
This isn’t merely the soft bigotry of low expectations; it’s the hard bigotry of no expectations at all.