By Larry Sand
Those who are obsessed with equity are doing great damage to American education.
Grade inflation is rampant and has been so for many years. Back in 2011, an in-depth study by three Ivy League economists looked at how the quality of individual teachers affects their students over the long term. The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and, using a value added approach, found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation, and higher adult earnings. The authors of the study define “value added” as the average test-score gain for a teacher’s students “…adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores.”
But to those who believe in equity über alles, quality is an afterthought, and many states are ditching any objective criteria for entry into the teaching field. In California, teachers traditionally have had to pass the ridiculously easy California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) to gain entry into the profession, but the test is now under fire.
Is it because the test is a snap and needs to become more rigorous? Hardly.
Christopher Davis, a member of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, claims that standardized testing causes “disproportionate harm to people of color.” In an equity-driven statement,John Affeldt, managing attorney at Public Advocates, agrees, saying, “CBEST is a barrier for educators of color,” and thinks the test should be eliminated.
New Jersey is no better. The state currently requires that candidates for teacher certification pass a basic skills test called the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators, which demonstrates proficiency in reading, writing, and math. However, the racially obsessed state teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association, believes that abolishing the basic skills test will “eliminate unnecessary barriers” to the teaching profession and promote equity. The union called on Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to sign a bill to end the requirement.
Mona Davids, founder of the New York City Parents Union, puts the situation into perspective. “Eliminating the [test just] to increase the number of unqualified, unprepared Black and Latino prospective teachers is the most racist and destructive action taken under the guise of diversifying NY’s teachers. We, Black and Latino parents, do not want teachers who cannot pass a basic literacy test. We don’t care about the color or race of the teacher, we want highly effective teachers teaching our children.”
On the subject of student testing, the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results show that nationwide, 29% of 8th-graders are proficient in reading, and just 26% are proficient in math. In acknowledging this pathetic state of affairs, the National Education Association blames the test, insisting that testing children is racist. “From grade school to college, students of color have suffered from the effects of biased testing.” The teachers’ union goes on to say, “Since their inception a century ago, standardized tests have been instruments of racism and a biased system,” and that “students of color, particularly those from low-income families, have suffered the most from high-stakes testing in U.S. public schools.”
But if you can’t get rid of the exams, the equity fanatics simply inflate grades as a way to hedge against the evil tests. In fact, grade inflation is at epidemic levels. Citing a study by ACT released in August 2023, RickHess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, writes that between 2010 and 2022, student grade point averages climbed markedly.“According to the ACT study, the average adjusted GPA increased from 3.17 to 3.39 in English and from 3.02 to 3.32 in math. In 2022, more than 89% of high schoolers received an A or a B in math, English, social studies, and science. Moreover, the 2019 NAEP High School Transcript Study found that students were indeed getting better grades than those a decade earlier but were learning less. In Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district, 83% of 6th graders received A, B, or C grades in spring 2022—even though just 27% met or exceeded the standards on state and national assessments.”
Perhaps the leader in graduation rate fraud is Chicago. In October, the school district proudly announced that its “historic” graduation rate in the 2022-2023 school year was 84% —the highest it has ever been.
Yet at the same time, according to the Illinois Report Card from the state Board of Education, in 2023, just 22% of Chicago Public School Students met or exceeded the SAT’s college readiness benchmark for English/Language Arts, and only 19% of students met or exceeded the math benchmark.
Of late, the SAT has been under attack. Many colleges dumped the longtime college admissions test during the time of COVID and have shown no sign of reimplementing the test. But as New York Times columnistDavid Leonhardt recently wrote,without test scores, college admissions officers sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between applicants who are likely to do well in colleges and those who are likely to struggle.
Leonhardt explains that researchers who have studied the issue say that test scores can be particularly helpful in identifying lower-income students and minorities who will thrive. “These students do not score as high on average as students from affluent communities or white and Asian students. But a solid score for a student from a less privileged background is often a sign of enormous potential.”
Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, also sees the value of testing. “Standardized test scores are a much better predictor of academic success than high school grades.” Stuart Schmill – dean of admissions at M.I.T., one of the few schools to have reinstated its test requirement – told Leonhardt, “Just getting straight A’s is not enough information for us to know whether the students are going to succeed or not.”
Additionally, the results of a study released last summer, covering Ivy League colleges along with Duke, M.I.T., Stanford, and the University of Chicago showed little relationship between high school grade point average and success in college. The researchers did, however, find a strong relationship between test scores and later success.
As Leonhardt notes, without test scores, admissions officers at elite colleges have to guess whether applicants are prepared for college. Often, they “favor those from high-performing private or suburban schools with a track record of preparing students for challenging schools. Applicants who made the honor roll at No Name High can’t compete.”
He also posits that perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the tests is that other parts of the admissions process have even larger racial and economic biases. “Affluent students can participate in expensive activities, like music lessons and travel sports teams, that strengthen their applications.”
It’s worth noting that Americans see standardized testing as fair, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Thirty-nine percent say colleges should consider standardized tests as a “major factor” when making admissions decisions and another 46% say scores should be a “minor factor.” Only 14% want to ignore scores.
The bottom line is that GPA is a particularly poor metric to rely on when making admissions decisions for colleges, as rigor and grade inflation varies widely between high schools. Standardized test scores do a better job of measuring student academic performance than high school grades. And persistent racial and economic gaps don’t render these results meaningless.
But when you are obsessed with equity, quality is an afterthought. We may be raising a nation of illiterates and innumerates, but they will all be equally brainless.
At this time, the American Medical Association is embracing equity, and perhaps exams to enter the medical profession will soon cease to exist.
God help us.
Larry Sand, a retired 28-year classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal Florid