Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Admission Gap

The Admission Gap

(Please click on hyperlinked title above. This story is 4 pages but easy to follow.)

I took away interesting points from this article. Standardized testing could be substantially inaccurate in the way it reflects students’ academic potential for success. Think about a student who comes from a wealthy family. That child's parents can probably pay to take the SAT and ACT plenty of times, whereas a child whose parents struggle to make ends meet each month could only afford one or two exams. However, I wished the writer gave more detailed facts about what the government was doing to service these disadvantaged students in DC and prepare them for the standardized tests.

The big question: How can government make it the law of the land that a standardized test will measure high school students' potential academic success and determine their entry into college? The reality is, the government does what the government will. The challenge though is this. Anything dealing with the words 'potential' and 'success' are immeasurable, abstract ideas. There is no exact yard stick that measures success other than to use concrete numbers. But the point of this story is to look beyond test scores when assessing a students' potential for success.

The focal point of the story is Neal Lerner, a Wootton High School student who has a 1920 SAT and 30 ACT score. The Lerner’s family is the epitome of a well-to-do American family in DC that has a line of successful children, including a child at Northwestern University. The parents can afford to put their children through private tutoring and extra standardized testing prep courses so that they can apply to prestigious colleges. While the writer closely follows what Learner is doing between his junior and senior year to prepare for college, there are other facts that give this story a meaty and balanced look.

This article uses a balance of sources. The writer looks at the perspective of people who stand in support of closing the admissions gap by substituting standardized testing with Advanced Placement tests and those who are doing well under the current standardized testing.

Interestingly enough, the article is trying to show a correlation between wealth and test scores. The higher your parents’ income bracket, the more likely you’ll be spoiled with the private tutors and receive high scores on your standardized tests.

The reality for disadvantaged students are put best by one of our sources: "The unfortunate reality is that underrepresented students, such as low-income students, often don't have the same access to the educational opportunities, rigorous courses and resources as other students do," said Alana Klein. "Their performance on standardized admissions tests, as well as on other educational assessments, often reflects this."

The writer Miranda Spivack does a good job of getting multiple aspects of this topic put together. Some educators she spoke to said test preparation has a psychological impact on one’s comfort level. For instance, a student whose parents couldn’t pay to receive extra tutoring may suffer from anxiety throughout the exam. Also, if you are the oldest child, you most likely don’t have an experienced person who can help you through the college application process.

Because this article does extensive research on the topic of college admissions, equal representation from high school students across the nation is a must. The author tries to form a creative balance through two dynamic students. While the author interviewed Lerner, a student who had a 3.7 GPA, superior standardized test scores and came from a neighborhood with a median income bracket of $172, 442, she uses a female from a less-affluent family in Wheaton to counter-balance it. The minute details are appropriately saved for the end. For instance, facts such as Wootton High School held a college application weekend and will give students a free SAT prep class are lower down on the inverted pyramid. There are a handful of facts that the writers saves until last as a final comparison between Wootton and Wheaton. That is, many people at Wheaton aren’t thinking about going to college. Some seniors haven’t taken their ACT or SAT by the fall.

The last few paragraphs focus on a student with a unique ethnicity and low socioeconomical background. This time, Julie Casteneda, an American-born student whose father is Salvadoran and mother is Mexican is center stage. Julie’s story is quite the opposite of Neal’s. She comes from a less affluent family, yet she has a 3.5 GPA and will retake the standardized exams because she wasn’t satisfied with her first test results. If we recall, Neal had no trouble signing up for private tutors and only had to take the each standardized test once. It’s ironic that people who can actually afford more tutoring have the money to take more tests, yet they don’t. And people who can’t afford tutoring end up paying money to take more standardized tests to bump up their scores.

For parents, this story is especially interesting because they deal with the rigorous process of enrolling their children into a private tutoring program or test prep class. Thoughts of financial debt are looming. Even if their child gets accepted into an Ivy School, parents will have to weigh out the difference financial aid packages. This year, it’s difficult to see where students will end up going because now the normal number of applications to submit is about 9 or 10. Moreover, it is ultimately up to the students to retake the exams for a higher score, and the parents can only influence their children if they take their college admissions seriously.

One thing I suggest is talking to the office of admissions at a few universities to get their reaction on whether they think standardized testing is a fair way to represent an applicant who comes from a low socioeconomical background considering all the aforementioned obstacles. That should stir some conversation and dialogue.

There's a lot to chew on in this story, but the author did a swell job of cutting the meaty topic into bite-sized pieces.


  1. Wow! You really analyzed the article thoroughly and did an extensive job with feedback. I was impressed by what you said and I think this was one of the best posts I've seen yet.

  2. I completely agree! Way to go, Crystal!
    That was also a really interesting article to read, too, even though it was so long. You're right that it was very easy to follow!