What Tests Predict, And What They Don’t

A new study of what high
school achievement tests predict about the performance of California high
school graduates in their first year at in-state community colleges has found
“disturbing” achievement gaps. The study measured students’ performance on the California Standards Test
as high school juniors against their first year community college performance
in four areas: the portion of the classes they took that transferable to the
California State University system; the portion of remedial classes taken; and
their grades in both types. In dramatically unsurprising findings (although
many education studies find a great deal that is not surprising), the authors
found that students with the best scores on the CST had higher grades their
first year in community college and were enrolled in fewer remedial classes.

Also not surprising but nevertheless
“disturbing” was that “Latino and black students [were] less likely than their
Asian and white peers to take and pass transfer-level college courses.” One
finding that is quite interesting, however, is that “[r]egardless of their
academic achievements in high school, Asian and white students consistently
enroll in more transferable courses than their Latino and black counterparts
do.” In fact, as the following chart illustrates, whites and Asians in the
bottom 25% of CST performance enroll in more transferable courses that blacks
and Hispanics in the top 25%.

Thumbnail image for CST.jpg

The study, again not surprisingly, “was not
able to determine what is causing those gaps,” but the lead author, Michal
Kurlaender, an associate professor at the University of California at Davis’s
School of Education, nevertheless suggested a litany of the usual suspects:
blacks and Latinos were more likely to be the first in their families to attend
college, probably attended less good high schools, and “shortcomings in
placement tests, which might favor white students because of cultural bias.”
(What, no bias in favor of Asians on those tests?

It is revealing, and all too typical, that
all these suggested explanations are external barriers or obstacles placed
disproportionately in front of minority students. Perhaps it’s time to look
more closely at the students themselves. 


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