P. 1
241342

241342

|Views: 38|Likes:
Published by thaqrhys

More info:

Published by: thaqrhys on Mar 09, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

06/20/2010

pdf

text

original

The GRE‚ FAME Report Series

(Vol. 1)

New Directions in Assessment for Higher Education:

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM, & EQUITY
(FAME)
Papers by Anne S. Pruitt Nancy S. Cole JW Carmichael, Jr.; Deidre D. Labat; Jacqueline T. Hunter; and John P. Sevenair

Graduate Record Examinations

Editor: Shilpi Niyogi Sponsored by the Graduate Record Examinations Program. Published by Educational Testing Service, Princeton, NJ 08541-6000. EDUCATIONAL TESTING SERVICE, ETS, the ETS logo, Graduate Record Examinations, and GRE are registered trademarks of Educational Testing Service. The modernized ETS logo is a trademark of Educational Testing Service. Copyright 1998 by Educational Testing Service.

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

3

FAME
I

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

Preface
n March of 1997, a conference was held to explore issues related to Fairness, Access, Multiculturalism, and Equity (FAME) in higher education. This two-day conference was co-sponsored by the Graduate Record Examinations Board and the Xavier University of Louisiana. A primary goal of the FAME conference was to increase and document our store of knowledge about equity issues in higher education and assessment, as they relate to racial and ethnic minority status, language and national background, gender, disabilities, and poverty. FAME conference speakers addressed assessment issues, issues of institutional policy and practice, and psychological and educational issues for individuals. As an additional outcome of the conference, we wished to identify important areas where research is needed to help increase equity in higher education and assessment. Our goals for the FAME report series reflect the conference goals, but encompass more than dissemination. Our hope is that the reports will highlight the multiple perspectives that exist on important FAME issues, and raise hard questions about them. This monograph is the first in the series. In this first report, we have included three papers that set a diverse framework for understanding FAME issues in higher education from the point of view of educational institutions, individual students, and assessment. Dr. Anne S. Pruitt’s keynote address provides a valuable historical context and sketches out the present “landscape of graduate education” and what we need to know more about if we are to rise “to the challenge to educate the children of all the people.” We have also included Dr. Nancy Cole’s paper on the meaning of merit and opportunity in higher education. In this paper, she addresses the dangerous and powerful myths surrounding standardized tests. Our third paper is from the “front lines:” Xavier University faculty who provide a concrete example of what educators and students can achieve — despite the odds — when there’s a will to do it. Carol Anne Dwyer Executive Director Program & Education Policy Research Educational Testing Service

5

Table of Contents

Page

Human Diversity, Graduate Education, and Challenges for Assessment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
Anne S. Pruitt Council of Graduate Schools

Merit and Opportunity: Testing and Higher Education at the Vortex
Nancy S. Cole Educational Testing Service

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12

Pathway to the Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
JW Carmichael, Jr.; Deidre D. Labat; Jacqueline T. Hunter; and John P. Sevenair Xavier University of Louisiana

6

Human Diversity, Graduate Education, and Challenges for Assessment
Anne S. Pruitt Council of Graduate Schools
The struggle to create and maintain an educational system that serves all individuals and groups and welcomes their contributions continues into the present. This conference comes in the wake of charges that minorities are being given preferential treatment over “better qualified” white applicants on the one hand, and on the other, that measures used by the graduate community to select students are unfair to students from underrepresented groups. Charges of preferential treatment are related to racial differences on quantitative measures for admission and on assumptions that institutions rely exclusively on quantifiable criteria in making admission decisions. Traditional measures such as test scores and undergraduate grade point average, as well as nontraditional measures, such as motivation and personality, are employed by most institutions in determining eligibility for admission to graduate school. The history of this controversy dates back to the 1970s, when pressure for admission was increasing. At the same time, admission standards were becoming more stringent, and this situation triggered a national debate over the relative weights to be assigned to such factors as test scores and non-quantitative measures. This debate intensified as adversaries prepared to defend their positions in the cases of DeFunis v. Odegaard and Alan Bakke v. The Board of Regents of the University of California/Davis (Blackwell, 1987). Despite efforts over the past 30 or more years to increase their numbers, enrollment data show that minorities are still underrepresented. Those who argue that procedures are unfair hold that qualified minority students are being denied admission to graduate study primarily because we rely on standardized test scores and undergraduate grade point averages to predict academic achievement. They call for the graduate community to identify barriers to access with a special focus on assessment procedures. Research shows that these two measures fail to consistently and validly predict academic achievement beyond the first year (Hagedorn and Nora, 1997, p. 32). Besides, students hate the tests and critics argue that our students are “tested to death.” THE GRE FAME REPORT

L
One of the eternal questions in American education is “who shall be educated?”

et me begin by thanking the GRE Board and Xavier University for joining together to sponsor this gathering. Both the Board and the University have pioneered in graduate education: the Board in assessing students for graduate study, and Xavier, in showing us all what can be done to produce fine undergraduate scholars from among those who are often regarded as outside the mainstream of educable people. Xavier is a shining example of what can happen when an entire institution exerts concerted impact — with enthusiasm and dedication — for academic achievement upon its student body. As I look around this room, I see a number of distinguished individuals each of whom has been worrying with me about these matters for decades. I am certain that I speak for all of us when I say that we welcome the opportunity to examine yet another challenge to the education of the children of all the people. At this conference we are concerned about the appropriate identification and weighing of diverse human competencies and talents for admission to graduate education. My responsibility today is to draw attention to the landscape of graduate education — to graduate student characteristics and the changing structure of graduate education itself — and to raise questions about what all this means for the manner in which we assess students for admission.

Perspective
Let me begin by creating a backdrop against which to explore these issues surrounding graduate education. One of the eternal questions in American education is “who shall be educated?” This question is a way of identifying America’s struggle to create and maintain an educational system that serves all individuals and groups. This question has pointed our nation in a variety of directions and through a variety of landmarks, such as education restricted to men as exemplified in the colonial college; laws making it illegal to teach black folk to read; laws requiring racially segregated schools; and the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing school segregation, to name a few. FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

7

Preferential treatment, however, is not the only concern. As testing organizations move toward computer-based testing, critics are challenging the fairness of these tests. Questions are being raised about whether these tests can be fair and equitable. ETS recently published a brochure that responded to questions like the following: ”if a school doesn’t have an extensive computer program, if there isn’t a computer at home, if test takers are inexperienced with computers, if they are anxious about using a computer or if they have a disability that makes it hard to use one — then aren’t computer-based tests inherently unfair for those students?“ (Educational Testing Service Board of Trustees Public Accountability Report, 1993.) Questions are also being raised about the relevance of assessment instruments to the kind of intellectual tasks we expect in graduate study. In response, GRE is adding two writing tests — one requiring test takers to analyze an argument and another to analyze an issue. The former will provide useful information about whether test takers, after reading an argument, can effectively analyze the reasoning behind the argument and then write a critique, while the latter will tell whether after considering a given issue or opinion, test takers can explain their point of view on the subject by citing relevant reasons or examples based on experience, observations, or reading. Who could argue that these are irrelevant to the kind of intellectual task we expect in graduate study? In addition to initiatives like these that are directed at effectiveness and efficiency, GRE’s track record in attracting fine researchers and publishing research on minorities is unquestioned. Its recent publication titled Research Agenda for the Graduate Record Examinations Board Minority Graduate Education Project: An Update (Brown, et al., 1994) reports on the state of knowledge in understanding the severe underrepresentation of minorities in graduate education and tells us where the lacunae exist. Moreover, testing organizations have gone to great lengths to provide information about the use — and caution against the misuse — of test scores, and to assist prospective students with test-taking skills. Despite these efforts, testing

has become the great sorter. It has, in fact, become the major designer of the opportunity structure in American higher education, determining in large measure who shall be educated. Turning from the testing enterprise to the graduate community, policies regarding admission procedures are relevant. On this issue, the Council of Graduate Schools states that policies and procedures ”should facilitate the matriculation of applicants who indicate promise of successfully completing their chosen programs.“ The Council goes on to state that “Matching the knowledge, the interests, and the developed skills of the applicant with the requirements and characteristics of the graduate program will result in higher retention rates, more satisfied graduate faculty and students, and better quality and effectiveness of graduate programs” (Council of Graduate Schools, 1992, p. 1). To make these policies work for minorities, graduate schools have amassed an impressive track record. The CGS statement (Council of Graduate Schools, 1996) on inclusiveness in graduate study makes this clear: “During the past 25 years graduate schools have created a variety of approaches to identify, recruit, retain and graduate underrepresented students. They range from summer research opportunity programs for undergraduates to community outreach activities designed to introduce the idea of graduate school to parents and their children. Many have involved increasing financial support . . . with funds from a variety of public and private sources. These programs have been developed through graduate schools and supplement many others based in departments and colleges” (p. 11). This statement on inclusiveness extols the value of the creativity and intellectual progress than can result from the presence of multiple talents and the free exchange of ideas and perspectives. For many reasons, graduate education is in a unique position to exercise leadership with respect to human equality. The much-touted origin of the word university — associated with bringing together many peoples, academic disciplines, and viewpoints — is at the philosophical heart of the matter.
continued on next page

. . . graduate education is in a unique position to exercise leadership with respect to human equality.

HUMAN DIVERSITY, GRADUATE EDUCATION,

AND

CHALLENGES

FOR

ASSESSMENT

8

Let us acknowledge, then, that in the face of the controversy over who shall be educated, testing organizations and graduate schools have acted responsibly. We are now at a new place in higher education. Thus, the questions: what do we know, and what do we need to know?

What We Know
Prior to World War II, our graduate student population was relatively homogeneous: male, overwhelmingly white and middle class, composed mostly of graduates of a narrow set of undergraduate colleges, and headed — we thought — for the doctorate. The contemporary graduate student population is different. It is much more diverse and is expected to become even more so. In a recent book (Pruitt and Isaac, 1995), Paul Isaac and I describe the diverse student population and, in general, characterize the new landscape of graduate education. To the surprise of many, eighty percent of current graduate students are enrolled in master’s degree programs (O’Brien, 1992). Approximately 70% of master’s students are enrolled part-time (Syverson, 1996), and graduate work is but one of many aspects of their lives. Today, more than one-half of our students are women (Syverson, 1996). Similarly, the number of minority students has not only increased but promises to grow even more. For example, the number of doctoral degrees awarded to Hispanics, Asian Americans, American Indian, and African American women has increased steadily since 1975 (Morris, 1991). These increases have continued and in 1995, each of the four minority groups (American Indian, Asian, Black, and Hispanic) posted record numbers of doctorate recipients (Henderson, Clarke, and Reynolds, 1996). When the National Science Foundation (1994) looked for persons with disabilities in science, they found that disabled persons are increasing in science and engineering doctoral programs. International students have become a substantial presence on many campuses and, in some fields, dominate graduate student populations. Current graduate students are likely to be older than their predecessors, to have children, either in two-parent families or as single parents, to have financial stresses associated with returning to school, to have education-related debt, and to be employed (Syverson, 1996).

The trend toward increasing diversity of our graduate student bodies and faculty could be reversed by lack of both financial and legal support.

Faculty expectations for today’s full-time resident students may be unrealistic. These students have more demands on their time than was the case for the (perhaps idealized) single student fresh out of a baccalaureate program. The older student with a family is less likely than the more traditional graduate student to work into the wee hours of the morning to meet a faculty member’s deadline. Although they may be willing to tolerate the working and living conditions of the traditional graduate student, they may be unwilling to accept constraints on whether they can take on other jobs to increase their cash flow. Also, they may have a different view of required courses or of the value of a residency requirement, and they may press for exceptions or for outright changes. To be sure, it is necessary, when discussing assessment of graduates, to take into account the new challenges and opportunities these new characteristics offer. Turning to U.S. graduate education, we find a system that is arguably the finest in the world. It is well established, with a history that dates back over 100 years. However, just as we know the characteristics of current graduate students, we also know how graduate education is changing. Faculty roles are shifting. Because faculty members’ time is being siphoned off for other duties, energy needed for careful assessment of potential students competes with demands that are not directly related to students. Moreover, faculty sometimes find it difficult to identify with the problems of graduate students who are faced with a different set of demands than they themselves had as students. Continuing graduate education is growing. Credentialing requirements in certain fields may not extend to actually attaining a degree, but rather simply to taking a certain number of courses or credit hours periodically to maintain the credential. Further, job expectations may require employees to take advanced levels of coursework to move up in their firms or simply to upgrade their skills. Already this is leading to the development of formal certification curricula. Developments like these complicate a discussion of assessment. Distance learning is already affecting graduate education. In addition to offering courses via telecommunications linkages, faculty are beginning to press for the use of telecommunications to enable participants from several sites to conduct oral examinations. The virtual university, as

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

9

evidenced by Walden (and the University of Phoenix), is a reality. Graduate education is coming under scrutiny and assessment in ways that are unprecedented in our memory. Student test scores are believed by many legislators, rating agencies, and boards of trustees to be the most reliable index of departmental or program quality. So, graduate departments, placed under the magnifying glass, are being pressured to show that they honor high admission standards. Even undergraduate college admission offices — reporting to their boards — recite the SAT score range of the new freshman class. Government has been a major player in graduate education for the last 35-40 years. In the late 1960s all higher education expanded. Federally funded fellowships for graduate students were widely available. As public higher education has become more expensive, however, the government has reacted by shifting the cost to individuals. Increased costs limit access. Borrowing large sums for education impacts differently on lower income families who are less willing to borrow as a substitute for low tuition. Another area in which the federal government has been instrumental is affirmative action. Many government programs have been targeted toward persons of color, women, and persons with disabilities in an effort to increase their participation at all levels of U.S. society. Currently, the concept of affirmative action is under siege, being viewed by some as reverse discrimination and as counter to the notion of merit. Many in positions of influence, both within and outside the government, hold that view. Although some professors hold that view also, believing that special programs dilute standards and weaken the admission process, real evidence is hard to come by. Evidence in support of affirmative action in the form of increased numbers of doctoral degrees held by minorities is corrupted by talk of quotas. Consequently, the trend toward increasing diversity of our graduate student bodies and faculty could be reversed by lack of both financial and legal support.

What We Need to Know
Given these changes in the spectrum of students and their interests, given these shifts in the sites and delivery of graduate education, given these

reversals and attitudes in general, what do we need to know in order to create fair assessment procedures we are calling for? We face substantial challenges. They require that we pay attention to articulating the ways in which our policies and our practices unfairly discriminate. Frank consideration of these challenges is a crucial first step in undertaking change. Although we have become comfortable with a certain set of predictors, we must now ask whether they are based on a population like the one we have now or whether they are based on the so-called traditional graduate student? Are we working with blunt instruments? Will our traditional policies and procedures help us to tap the knowledge, interests, and skills of older, more experienced applicants. Can we be confident in applying traditional assessment procedures to women who, as caregivers, are required to devote lots of time to their children or aging parents? Can traditional procedures predict effectively for graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or Hispanic colleges or American Indian colleges? What about students with disabilities? Can they predict for those who are more utilitarian in their motivations for graduate education? Who are not computer literate? Who have not had access to high quality teaching and curricula? Can the economically poor afford the costs? Assessment techniques are poorly designed for the delicate equity work that we require today. We are working with blunt instruments. The questions I am raising relate to students who are currently enrolled, not those who — for a variety of reasons — are not enrolled. What would a profile of graduate enrollment resemble if the underrepresented students were matriculating? Larger proportions of African American men, larger proportions of persons with disabilities, of the economically poor? Graduates of Historically Black, Hispanic, and American Indian institutions? Larger proportions of these students and women in physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering? Larger proportions who had not felt required to interrupt their education to earn money to pay for graduate education? What role have assessment policies and procedures played in keeping them out?
continued on next page

HUMAN DIVERSITY, GRADUATE EDUCATION,

AND

CHALLENGES

FOR

ASSESSMENT

10

What would a profile of graduate enrollment resemble if the underrepresented students were matriculating?

Were the predictors that we are employing today based on expectations that computer screens would do the teaching, or were they based, instead, on the expectation that teaching and learning would occur in seminar rooms where face-to-face interaction with faculty was the common mode of instruction? Were we predicting for situations in which student-teacher interaction is scheduled for weekends only? Were we predicting for schools where students are admitted for dual degrees rather than a single degree? Where interdisciplinary majors are replacing single disciplines? Where students work full-time and study part-time? Where students earn the M.A. with credits from six or seven institutions? Do we know what characteristics of these students or their environments are most related to completion of graduate degrees?

Implications
We really are not certain what works. In my own experience as professor and associate dean of a graduate school, I have helped to select a few students who had impeccable credentials who later failed or dropped out; I have also helped to select a few who barely squeaked by the selection committees, but later earned their doctorates with flying colors! To be sure, my experience is anecdotal, but it has in all likelihood been repeated dozens of times, particularly in the case of the new graduate students about whom we are concerned at this conference. Do we not need to design research to help identify the knowledge, interests, and skills of all college graduates — regardless of gender, race and ethnicity, undergraduate institution, or disability? Do we not need to monitor the emerging shape of graduate education as well as the students who are being left out so that we can redesign our assessment policies and procedures for this new and emerging day? The characteristics of current and future graduate students represent a spectrum of knowledge, interests, attitudes, skills, and talents that is broader than any we have ever seen. This vast spectrum of people is demanding that America live up to its commitment to educate the children of all the people. There is a mismatch between their needs and circumstances

and the character of traditional graduate education, and at the same time, that character is in a state of flux. And so, we do need to sharpen our instruments. It will not be enough for us to labor over assessment techniques, however. It is worth noting what is really at stake here. To comprehend the enormity of our problem should not be too difficult. Our educational system has contact with students beginning with their very first day in school. We must acknowledge the relationship among curriculum and pedagogy on the one hand and assessment on the other. The total educational establishment — college as well as elementary and secondary education and university policy — must attack the problem — together. This problem calls for joint planning and program execution. It calls for collaboration among presidents, deans, graduate faculty, test makers, foundations, researchers, and new partners. It also calls for students — a group often left out of this equation — to invest themselves in their own education — to learn all that they can. It is not new for the education establishment to work as one. In the 1950s, the Russian launching of Sputnik created a crisis in American education unsurpassed by any other, and required the U.S. to marshal all its educators to raise to a higher level student preparation in science, math, and foreign languages. Today, we are witness to a crisis of similar proportions; not a crisis in international politics, mind you, but rather a crisis in the education of this rich mosaic of students who populate our country. This crisis should engender in us a warrior spirit to raise to a higher level the quality of schooling. We have abundant intelligence; we also the have the resources. What we need most of all is the will. I thank you for this opportunity to think about what we know and what we need to know about human diversity, graduate education, and the challenges they pose for assessment. I am confident that this conference will move us up another rung on the ladder that lifts our nation closer to the creation and maintenance of an educational system that serves the children of all the people.

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

11

References
Blackwell, J. E. (1987). Ending the White Monopoly on Graduate and Professional Education. In Pruitt, A.S. (Ed.), In Pursuit of Equality in Higher Education. Dix Hills, NY: General Hall. p. 76-94. Bowen, W. G. and N.L., Rudenstein. (1992). In Pursuit of the PhD. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Bowen, W. G. and J.A., Sosa. (1989). Prospects for Faculty in the Arts and Sciences. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Brown, S. V., B. C. Clewell, R. B. Ekstrom, M.E. Goertz, and D. E. Powers. (1994). Research Agenda for the Graduate Record Examinations Board Minority Graduate Education Project: An Update. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Council of Graduate Schools. (1992). An Essential Guide to Graduate Admissions. Washington, DC: The Council of Graduate Schools. Council of Graduate Schools. (1997, January/February). Building an Inclusive Graduate Community: A Statement of Principles. Communicator. Educational Testing Service Board of Trustees’ Public Accountability Report. (1993). Computer-Based Tests: Can They be Fair for Everyone? Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Hagedorn, L. S. and A. Nora. (1996). Rethinking Admissions Criteria in Graduate and Professional Programs. In J. G. Haworth (Ed.), Assessing Graduate and Professional Education: Current Realities, Future Prospects. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p. 31-44. Henderson, P.H., J.E. Clarke, and M.A. Reynolds. (1996). Summary Report 1995: Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Morris, F. L. (1991, December). American Minorities and International Students: Striking What Balance? Baltimore, MD: Morgan State University. National Science Foundation. (1994). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1994. (NSF 94-333). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation . O’Brien, E. M. (1992). Master’s Degree Students and Recipients: A Profile. Research Briefs Vol. 3, No. 1. Washington, DC: Division of Policy Analysis and Research, American Council on Education. Pruitt, A.S. and P.D. Isaac. (1985). Discrimination in Recruitment, Admission, and Retention of Minority Graduate Students. Journal of Negro Education, 54 (4), p. 526-536. Pruitt-Logan, A. S. and P.D. Isaac. (Eds.) (1995). Student Services for the Changing Graduate Student Population. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Syverson, P.D. (1995, October). The New American Graduate Student — Challenges or Opportunity? Communicator.

HUMAN DIVERSITY, GRADUATE EDUCATION,

AND

CHALLENGES

FOR

ASSESSMENT

12

Merit and Opportunity: Testing and Higher Education at the Vortex*
Nancy S. Cole Educational Testing Service
higher education include concerns for selecting equitably those well prepared for advanced learning as well as those likely to build on learning to make advanced contributions to society. An essential American value is that a person should advance in this society on the basis of hisor her own accomplishment as opposed to family connections, wealth, social standing, place of birth, racial/ethnic heritage, or gender. Thus, it is not surprising that a dominant view of merit in higher education has been based on objective measures of individual accomplishment including standardized test scores. Such measures fit well with the notion of identifying individuals with strong preparation for advanced learning and those most likely to make important contributions to the nation. These notions seemingly combined to produce a common public view of appropriate selection criteria to identify the “best qualified” students. In 20th century higher education, testing has come to embody a dominant public notion of “merit” and the accompanying view of equity as selection using objective measures of “merit.” In this view, equitable opportunity is often presumed because all children have access to education through high school to prepare themselves to compete for this valued form of education. The problem, of course, is that this presumption of opportunity does not address the impact of unequal education at earlier levels on a student’s ability to compete for access to higher education (and succeed, if granted access). Considerations of merit and opportunity as well as looming equity issues must interact with the fact that we are a nation of enormous racial/ethnic diversity. The unequal early educational preparation of all our citizens creates a dangerously wide social and economic divide. Our nation has not yet reconciled the need to assure diverse groups the opportunity to achieve advancement through higher education with current notions of individual merit that presume a prior equality of opportunity that does not in fact exist. How does a nation deal reasonably with such a difficult set of issues? Although public discussions sometimes oversimplify the issues of merit and opportunity, at ETS we know that these issues are extremely complex. Contrary to the THE GRE FAME REPORT

T
Today’s debate revolves around whether consideration should be given to race, ethnicity, and gender when making decisions about higher education admissions.

he current tornado of political activity about affirmative action, voter initiatives labeled “pro civil rights,” and legal rulings on college admissions policies have thrown the higher education community into the center of a troubling national debate. Testing organizations join higher education at this vortex as standardized tests are simultaneously the presumed culprit and the presumed solution for many of these difficult issues.

Merit and Opportunity in Today’s Context
Today’s debate revolves around whether consideration should be given to race, ethnicity, and gender when making decisions about higher education admissions. Although our society promoted affirmative action in the 1960’s and 1970’s, today many see it as reverse discrimination and inconsistent with our cultural sense of fair play. Many Americans believe that we should be blind to such characteristics and should admit students to college on the basis of individual accomplishment, especially as higher education is seen as an important ticket to economic success. As a nation, we clearly value elementary and secondary education for all youngsters and guarantee free public education to grade 12. The equity issues at these levels involve the variable quality of locally-administered systems to which youngsters have access and the unequal opportunities to learn which that variable quality produces. At this lower level of education, the issue does not involve merit to qualify for access to local schools. The nation has not presumed to provide free higher education for all students nor access to one’s public higher education institution of choice. Although many state community college systems attempt to provide low tuition and easy access, more selective higher education, with higher fees and selective admissions, is also publicly supported. This latter segment of higher education is seen to be of special societal value by promoting contributions from some highly trained individuals. Notions of equity in selective

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

13

often simple public notion of merit as test scores, we know test scores should not be asked to be the sole or primary definer of “merit.” We believe test scores can provide important and dependable information, but we advise against putting too much weight on tests for a number of good reasons. Contrary to the simple notion of fair opportunity to compete for higher education admissions, we know that American students have widely differing preparation for that competition, with a disproportionate number of minority students attending mediocre schools. Those of us at the vortex of the debates about affirmative action in higher education have a responsibility to assist the American public in its struggle with the complexities of merit and opportunity. The purpose of this statement is to provide some information to assist us in meeting this critical challenge.

The Myth of Tests as a Single Yardstick and the Reality of Data
As noted, publicly accepted notions of merit for selection purposes rely heavily on objective measures of individual accomplishment. Test scores have become a widely accepted 20th century embodiment of merit for higher education admissions. As with many simple solutions to complex issues, equating test scores with merit creates a mythology that is not consistent with the reality of data. In particular, it is a myth of test scores that almost any test will provide a single, unequivocal yardstick by which we can measure all comers. The further myth is that the right, proper, and fair way to achieve selection based on merit is by rank ordering applicants from high to low on this indisputable yardstick and selecting from the top down. Any deviation from this procedure is thought to be a clear violation of the inherent justice of this merit principle. For this over-simple notion of merit to be correct, the data would need to support that there is one and only one primary ordering of people as “best qualified.” But the data tell us quite unambiguously that there are multiple orderings from multiple credible yardsticks. Let’s look at the data.

Individual Variation. First, we all know that some good, well-qualified students do better on some types of tests than others. Some wellqualified students are stronger in English, others in history, and still others in science or mathematics. If we define “well qualified” in terms of performance on a verbal or history test we will get a different rank order of those qualified than on a test of math or science. Any two credible academic tests will produce different rankings of individuals. Which is the unequivocal yardstick? Group Variation. The myth of the single yardstick is important to the sense of fairness the public wants. If different orderings are possible, then we have to be able to defend one over the other. The lack of a single yardstick is demonstrated in even more vexing fashion by the fact that the effects on rank orderings of individuals from different subgroups will vary with the choice of test. Consider first comparisons of females and males. Data from representative samples of high school seniors show substantial female-male differences in test performance in important academic areas as shown in Table 1. Here we see that young women do much better than young men on tests of writing and language use and young men do much better than young women on tests of mechanical and electronics content. Even if we focus on tests of language-related areas, there is not a uniform effect. Females do relatively best in writing and language use, with a smaller advantage over males in reading, and essentially none in vocabulary and reasoning. Basically, these data demonstrate that if our yardstick includes tests of writing and language use, many more females will rank high than if our yardstick includes tests of math concepts and natural science. In similar comparisons of White with Black or Hispanic students, we see similar differences in the relative performance of members of these groups on tested subjects in addition to the familiar overall difference favoring Whites. Both Black and Hispanic students score best in writing relative to Whites and worst in math and science. Again, the data do not support the existence of a single, unequivocal yardstick.
continued on next page

It is a myth of test scores that almost any test will provide a single, unequivocal yardstick by which we can measure all comers.

MERIT

AND

OPPORTUNITY: TESTING

AND

HIGHER EDUCATION

AT THE

VORTEX*

14

TABLE 1
Gender Differences in Test Performance in 12th Grade*
Standardized Gender Diff. Test Category Females Score Higher .6 .4 .2 No Difference .0 –.2 –.4 Males Score Higher –.6 –.8 –1.0 — Mechan./Electronics — Writing — Language Use — Reading — Math Comp. — Vocab./Reas. — Math Concepts — Science

Prediction is better when both test scores and high school grades are used as opposed to either alone . . .

*From compilations of 74 different tests, grouped by subject category from Willingham & Cole, 1997.

TABLE 2
Gender Differences in Grades of 12th Graders*
Standardized Gender Diff. School Subjects Females Perform Better .6
English

.4 .2
Math

Social Science Science

No Difference

.0

*From seniors in 1992 in the National Educational Longitudinal Study and reported in Willingham & Cole, 1997.

If Not Tests Alone, Add Grades. Because grades are often seen as a part of this imagined single yardstick, it is important to remind ourselves that adding grades to test scores does not produce this single yardstick either. In fact, the data remind us that grades and tests differ in some systematic ways. Tests measure quite specific skills at a single point in time; grades are derived from multiple performances over much longer time periods and involve a much broader set of possibly unenumerated skills. Some students do better on one; others on the other. Group differences are involved here too. Females do better than males on grades in most subjects (see Table 2) whereas, as we saw in Table 1, for tests it depends on the subject. How much weight we put on grades and tests in the combination of the two will affect the resulting rank ordering of individuals. Again, the supposed single yardstick is in fact no single yardstick. Using Predictions of College Grades. An important use of test scores and high school grades has been to predict college grades. Such predictions are sometimes seen as sacrosanct. Several interesting results have become apparent from many studies. First, college grades are not always comparable. Students in the same college take different courses and sections of courses for which grading standards differ. Different types of institutions have policies that apparently either encourage such diversity in course-taking and grading or discourage it (Willingham et. al., 1990). These institutional policies affect the degree of prediction that test scores and high school grades achieve. The clearest result is that prediction is better when both test scores and high school grades are used as opposed to either alone or any other variable. But it is also clear that the level of prediction achieved and the most predictive combination of test scores and grades depend on a range of events and policies regarding grading practices at a particular institution and change over time. Grade prediction does not seem to have solved our single yardstick conundrum either. Broader Notions of Talent and Success. Academic success, like most human endeavors, involves a mix of talents and shows itself in a variety of forms. Accordingly, students might reasonably be considered “well qualified” for higher education by some other indicators such as:

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

15

other types of academic accomplishment (winning science fairs, publishing original fiction, in-depth study of advanced topics, etc.) special signs of creativity (inventing a new device, creating a recognized piece of art, producing a novel and respected idea, etc.) effectiveness with others (working well with others toward productive ends, demonstrating leadership, showing special effectiveness as a communicator, demonstrating interpersonal skills that command respect, etc.) motivation (working hard and consistently toward an important purpose, showing drive and determination when faced with obstacles, clear indications of desire to learn and succeed, etc.) orientation to social and community concerns (productive involvement with social service activities, demonstrated understanding of community concerns, personal aspirations that include service to others, etc.) Unfortunately our measures of these characteristics are not as objective or as dependable as test scores. However, when we construct formal measures of these talents and forms of prior success for research studies, we find that they identify some different individuals than those identified by the traditional assessments. Although there are practical problems in identifying these talents, surely they remind us of other credible yardsticks. Implications for the Public Notion of Merit. Recognizing individual merit is an important public value. However, the data remind us that accomplishing this recognition is not so simple as implementing a single, indisputable yardstick. Those in higher education must not, for reasons of convenience or lack of information, allow the discussion of merit to take on simplistic forms that do justice to neither the importance of the principle nor the message of the data. The absence of a single yardstick means that implementing an appropriate notion of merit with integrity will surely require both multiple measures and good judgment by committed

educators. Higher education and testing organizations can help the public understand the myths and implications of the data. We can also act on this knowledge by basing our actions on multiple yardsticks and good judgment, as the important principles of merit and equity deserve.

The Myth of Fair Opportunity to Compete for Selection and the Reality of Data
Another essential American value is that every person in this nation should have a fair opportunity to succeed. Historically this value, like the value of merit, was a rejection of the notion that a person’s lot in life should depend primarily on the conditions to which he or she was born. In a nation with fair opportunity, people will have a high probability of success if they work hard and learn enough, regardless of family or wealth. The notion of fair opportunity is greatly complicated when applied to higher education since college and graduate study are late in a series of educational experiences. It is much easier to imagine what fair opportunity for higher education should mean if all people have had equal educational experiences prior to higher education. In this scenario, fair opportunity would be a fair chance to demonstrate merit on the same terms as all other applicants. But what does fair opportunity mean when inequities exist in prior education — when the opportunities to learn and prepare for higher education are vastly different for different individuals? In considering this issue there are data relevant to some of the questions to which we need answers: Are there educational inequities prior to higher education? Is admission in the face of prior educational inequities only giving a student the opportunity to fail? There are also questions for which we do not find helpful data: How should we think about merit in the face of inequitable prior preparation? In such cases, should we differentiate the meaning of merit from the traditional meaning of “best qualified”?
continued on next page

Those in higher education must not allow the discussion of merit to take on simplistic forms.

MERIT

AND

OPPORTUNITY: TESTING

AND

HIGHER EDUCATION

AT THE

VORTEX

16

The large differences among schools in student performance are strongly suggestive of different opportunities to learn.

In each case, however, answers to these questions challenge the myth that every student has a fair opportunity to compete in selective admissions for college or graduate or professional study. Sometimes the answers pit notions of opportunity against present public notions of merit. Nonetheless, it is useful to consider what we do know that bears on these critical questions. Data on Inequities in Schooling. Test data clearly tell us that average student performance differs greatly by state, by school within state, and even by school within school district. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate the state to state variation vividly (see Table 3). The test data from most large school districts, typically featured in local newspapers, show large differences in average student performance among schools.

TABLE 3
Proficiency in Reading Assessments for Selected States* Grade 4, Public Schools
Maine Wisconsin Pennsylvania Colorado Arkansas Florida California NAEP Scale Score 228 224 215 213 209 205 197

Data from the 1994 NAEP (Campbell, et. al., 1996)

Is Admission Without Adequate Preparation Only An Opportunity to Fail? A traditional concern in higher education is that admitting students who do not have adequate preparation to succeed is a futile exercise. Is it not reasonable to assume that students who are far too poorly qualified for a particular college have little or no chance of success? However, we may overestimate the failure expectations for moderately qualified applicants, especially if we view applying itself as an indication of their interest and intention to succeed. The situation of applicants whose preparation is less than ideal but good enough to support a reasonable chance of success is illustrative. Consider a hypothetical situation built from typical data. Suppose a rather selective college has an applicant pool of 5000 students and 1000 places available. Using test and grade data with correlations typical of selective colleges, we can compute the probability of attaining a college grade average of 2.5 (half B’s, half C’s) for several groups of applicants as shown in Table 4. With 1000 places available, this college might define the highest 1000 scorers as the “best qualified” for admission. However, the second group of scorers also has a high probability of passing. In fact, it is often the case that the second group of applicants does not have dramatically lower probabilities of success than the first group. (How close the probabilities in these different groups are will depend on the strength of the applicant pool. The data presented here is for a strong applicant pool as self-selection usually results in a reasonable match of applicants and requirements.)

TABLE 4
One may argue that such data are not conclusive about the opportunities students have to learn since it is also true that there are some good performers in almost any school. Still, the large differences among schools in student performance are strongly suggestive of different opportunities to learn. When an opportunity presents itself, most parents try to live in communities with high performing schools, indicating a strongly held common belief that there are important inequities in learning opportunities in this nation’s schools.
Probability of Success in College for Students of Different Ranks in the Applicant Pool*
Applicants Highest 1000 Scorers Second 1000 Scorers Third 1000 Scorers Fourth 1000 Scorers Lowest 1000 Scorers Probability of Achieving Grade Average of 2.5 .86 .71 .59 .45 .27

*Based on hypothetical data using a .55 multiple correlation of high school grades and test scores with college grades and a college GPA distribution typical of highly selective colleges with able applicant pools.

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

17

My point is that the chance of succeeding at a college does not drop to zero for students slightly less qualified than the top applicants. Although people may think of students as “qualified” or “not qualified”, the notion of two distinct categories is a myth. There is actually a continuum of qualification in which the chances of success are only marginally different for those who qualify and some who fail to make the cut. The data illustrate that typically, for many more students than those selected, we would not be “inviting failure” by their selection. It is only in more extreme cases of inadequate preparation that the invitation to fail is a seriously relevant concern. Alternative Meanings of Merit When Prior Inequities Exist. There have been good reasons for higher education to equate “merit” with some tangible evidence of “best qualified.” However, when inequitable preparation is present, it raises an appropriate distinction between the two concepts. Is it not meritorious for an individual to achieve a high (but not the highest) level of qualifications against the odds of a difficult family circumstance, extreme poverty, or a weak school? Such a person may not be the best qualified, but may well have been had he or she been exposed to better circumstances. I would argue for consideration of a concept of merit that acknowledges accomplishments against such odds, especially if the level of performance is sufficient to give the person a reasonable chance of success. Without some flexibility in our definition of merit, fair opportunity to compete for higher education in the face of prior inequities is a particularly cruel myth. Of course, designing and implementing a system that takes into account such additional factors would be difficult. Which difficulties of circumstance are worthy of special merit if overcome, and which are not? How can the difficulties be gauged? Who decides? Another nontraditional indicator of merit could be evidence of a characteristic badly needed by society. Suppose we greatly need more scientists and engineers to be successful as a nation. Should we give special consideration to an individual likely to pursue a course of study and career in science or engineering? Suppose it

is essential that we have well educated minority populations for national success. Should we give special consideration to minority applicants in such a circumstance? Managing the Complexities When the Myths are Exploded. These are issues of great complexity and difficulty; they are issues that must be raised in such a way that permits us to consider what we know and to debate appropriate action. We will need much wisdom for resolution of these issues, much frank consideration of the points on both sides, and much appreciation for the complexities that lie beneath the surface of these debates. Solving the dilemma of fair opportunity in access to higher education while preserving an appropriate notion of merit may require the wisdom of Solomon. Even without such wisdom, we can at least lead the thoughtful consideration of the issues. These two essential and fundamental values of Americans — for merit and fair opportunity — are as key today as at any time in our nation’s history. And today higher education is one of the most visible stages on which we demonstrate our national commitment to these values. As we do so, we must acknowledge the myths that seemed to make the issues simpler — the myths of a single yardstick and of equitable education prior to higher education — even though acknowledging these myths makes finding solutions even more difficult. Understanding that a single yardstick is a myth makes it clear why we must not let testing be the quick and simplistic answer when it is not the right answer. To fail to represent other worthy yardsticks of merit is a disservice to the importance of the merit issue. To presume a level playing field of fair opportunity when we know full well the field is not level is a similar disservice. Testing organizations and higher education owe the nation a deeper understanding of the complexities in reconciling the inherent value of merit and opportunity without the myths.

The chances of success are only marginally different for those who qualify and some who fail to make the cut.

continued on next page

MERIT

AND

OPPORTUNITY: TESTING

AND

HIGHER EDUCATION

AT THE

VORTEX

18

References
Campbell, J. R., P. L. Donahue, C. M. Reese, and G. W. Phillips. (1996). NAEP 1994 Reading Report Card for the Nation and the States Findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and Trial State Assessment. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education. Willingham, W. W. & N. S. Cole. (1997). Gender and Fair Assessment. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Willingham, W. W., C. Lewis, R. Morgan, and L. Ramist. (1990). Predicting college grades: An analysis of institutional trends over two decades. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

19

Pathway to the Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana
JW Carmichael, Jr.; Deidre D. Labat; Jacqueline T. Hunter; and John P. Sevenair Xavier University of Louisiana
placed into medical schools in 1996, 77, was the highest in the nation; Xavier has been number one in this area in every year since 1993. Xavier students have been accepted by a variety of schools (including Harvard, Howard, Princeton, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Illinois, the University of Mississippi, Northwestern, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Morehouse). The success of these programs has had a profound impact on enrollments at Xavier. For instance, the number of students majoring in biology at XU has increased radically over the past ten years. The number of biology majors has risen from an average of 226 per year between 1986 and 1988 to 922 in the fall of 1996, while overall enrollment at XU increased by a much more moderate percentage during the same period. Biology now has the largest number of majors on campus, encompassing more than 25% of the College of Arts and Sciences. On the basis of past experience, we believe a high percentage of the Xavier graduates admitted to graduate and professional programs will earn their degrees. Xavier’s enrollment increases in the sciences and its placement of students into science-based graduate and professional schools are not due to recruitment alone. Over the past five years, average composite ACT scores were 20.7 (equivalent to 980 on the recentered SAT). Instead, most of XU’s successes result from programs that significantly increase students’ chances of success in the sciences. A comparison of the percentage of African American freshmen who succeed at Xavier with those who do so nationally is instructive. An ETS study (Hilton and Schrader, 1987) has indicated only 24% of high ability African Americans (defined to be a little less than the top 3% based on standardized test scores) who enter college, complete a degree program and gain entry into any graduate or professional school. In contrast, a similar study at Xavier (Carmichael et al., 1988) found that more than three times the percentage of a wider range of students (those from the top 20% of African Americans nationally) who enter XU as biology or chemistry majors gain entry into science-based graduate or professional schools.
continued on next page

S

everal decades after the civil rights movement transformed the effort to provide access and fairness to Americans from all cultural backgrounds, those of African descent are still severely underrepresented in the sciences. Recent data indicate that only 4% of the bachelor’s degrees, 2% of the master’s degrees, and 2% of the doctoral degrees earned in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics fields (SEM) were awarded to African Americans (National Science Foundation, 1992) — despite the fact that African Americans constitute more than 12% of the population of the United States (U.S. Census, 1990). The situation is no better in the health professions. Between 2 and 3% of the nation’s health professionals are African American (Health and Human Services, 1986). The nation’s failure to achieve parity for African Americans (and members of other minority groups) in SEM fields is serious for several reasons. It raises fundamental questions about equity in our society. Because the percentage of minorities in the U.S.A. is increasing, it decreases our nation’s future ability to compete in an increasingly technological world. Finally, the shortage of minorities in the health professions continues to have adverse effects on the health care of minority group members. A group of science faculty at Xavier University of Louisiana (XU) have developed several nontraditional programs that have dramatically increased the number of African Americans from XU who gain entry into science graduate or professional schools. The effectiveness of these programs is indicated by the fact that Xavier (a small, historically Black institution that has only limited financial resources) placed almost a hundred African Americans into biological science graduate or professional schools in 1996. The number of XU students placed into such schools has more than tripled over the past ten years. The number of African American students

The nation’s failure to achieve parity for African Americans (and members of other minority groups) in Science, Engineering and Mathematics . . . raises fundamental questions about equity in our society.

PATHWAY

TO THE

SCIENCES

AT

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

OF

LOUISIANA

20

Overview of Xavier’s Educational Pathway
Xavier’s success in placing African Americans into graduate and professional schools is the direct result of programs that have been implemented and continuously improved by a rela tively small group of science faculty. These programs work because in combination they form an educational pathway that identifies promising students as early as junior high school and provides continuous support until the student gains entry into advanced programs and graduates. The first of the programs that now make up the Xavier pathway started in the mid-1970s, and other components were added as science faculty at Xavier identified and then attempted to remove barriers to student success. The dramatic increase in the number of students entering graduate and professional schools in recent years is a result of the refinement of our programs made with the assistance of grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute beginning in 1988. The current components of XU’s biological science “educational pathway” are described briefly below. Older versions of the pathway are available from previous publications (Carmichael, Hunter, et. al, 1988; Carmichael and Sevenair, 1991).

BioStar prepares students for high school biology. BioStar is a three-week program that is usually taken during the summer preceding the 10th grade. Students are typically in class from 8am to 2pm daily. ChemStar prepares students for high school chemistry. This is a three-week program that is usually taken the summer preceding the 11th grade. Students are typically in class from 8am to 4pm daily. SOAR (Stress On Analytical Reasoning) is a four-week program designed to help bridge the high school- to-college transition by emphasizing problem solving skills. SOAR students are typically in class from 8am to 5pm Monday through Friday, and are required to attend study hall from 6 to 8pm Sunday through Thursday. The University’s science faculty has developed Xavier’s science-related, precollege summer programs over the past twenty years. The oldest of the programs, SOAR, was one part of a major effort to reduce attrition and increase performance in freshman-level math and science courses at Xavier. All of the summer programs were developed in consultation with teachers from local schools. The programs in the Summer Science Academy differ from one another because of differing content demands and educational levels for the participants, but all of them contain the following features to some degree. Daily quizzes that test the work of the previous day Rapid turnaround (1 day maximum) in grading (this way the students can use their past performance to prepare for future quizzes) Integration of problem solving with content Homework, at least two hours daily Emphasis on reading and/or vocabulary skills Group competitions designed to promote peer support groups based on academics.

These programs work because in combination they form an educational pathway that identifies promising students as early as junior high school.

Summer Science Academy
To increase the number of African Americans interested in and ready for entry into a science major in college, Xavier’s science faculty has developed a series of summer enrichment programs that prepare high school students for the science or mathematics course they will take during the next school year. These programs, known collectively as Xavier’s Summer Science Academy, are: MathStar prepares junior high and high school students for their first algebra course. This is a two-week program that most students take during the summer preceding the 9th grade. MathStar students are in class from 8am to 3pm daily, five days a week.

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

21

In addition, the following features of the summer programs help to build a learning community. Successful XU science majors serve as role models. Xavier science majors who have high grades act as Group Leaders. Each one organizes a group for competitions (see below), inspires by example, acts as a tutor, calls any student who is tardy or absent, and generally serves as an older sister or brother. Parent involvement is emphasized. Parents and guardians as well as participants are invited to the orientation and welcoming ceremony the day before each program begins. They are sent grade reports frequently — at least once per week. Parents also are invited to the Awards Ceremony at the end of each program. Here each student receives a certificate of completion for the program and demonstrates what he/she has achieved. Social activities, including dances, that also promote a sense of community among participants. At the same time, this lets the participants see that successful science students are not necessarily socially incompetent. In 1996, 1,994 students applied to the programs, and funds were available to serve 566 of them. As in the past, more than 99% of both the applicants and participants in 1996 were African Americans, and more than 80% of both the applicants and participants were female. Because both Xavier and the students who participate in XU’s science-related precollege summer programs have only limited financial resources, the programs were purposely designed to be low in cost. The average cost is $100 per week per participant for students who do not live on campus. This pays for lunch, local bus transportation, textbooks, social activities, and the awards. Because we have limited costs, it has been possible to obtain external grants to help pay those costs for most of the students. In 1996, the programs were supported by grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP, Bureau of Health Professions, HHS), as well as by donations from XU science faculty.

Modification of Entry-Level Math/Science Courses
XU faculty have modified their General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, General Biology, as well as Precalculus and Calculus I courses to provide extensive support for students who are underprepared. These changes apply whether or not a given student participated in the Summer Science Academy programs described above, and at the same time they maintain high academic standards. Perhaps the most basic change in Xavier’s entry-level science courses was the adoption of a philosophy where content, teaching methodology, and rate of presentation are determined by the department housing the courses, rather than by the whims of individual lecturers or textbook authors. The major driving force behind these standardized courses is that it makes it possible to train tutors who know exactly what is covered in all of the lecture sections of a course, when the topics are presented, and how each of the topics is approached. This means that the tutors can be more effective in providing assistance to students than they could have if different lecturers were covering different content (as in traditional courses). Standardization also made it easier to provide guidance to part-time or new faculty at the university. Standardization at Xavier is sustained by a series of workbooks. Each of these tells the students what they need to learn, contains sample problems, and gives references to the textbook for those who need more information about the topic. Although the content of each workbook is molded by its department as a whole, these books are not static. Each of them is revised constantly to update content and to put new teaching strategies in place. Standardization within a department and strong lines of communication among departments do not mean that all of the entry-level science courses are the same. Differences among the courses arise because faculty in one department perceive the major barriers to success in their entry-level course to be different from those in another department, because certain strategies are more amenable to some personality types than to others, and because of time or space constraints. What follows is a compilation of unusual
continued on next page

Content, teaching methodology, and rate of presentation are determined by the department housing the courses.

PATHWAY

TO THE

SCIENCES

AT

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

OF

LOUISIANA

22

features currently present in one or more of Xavier’s entry-level science courses. We believe that each of them contributes significantly to XU’s success in placing its African American science majors into graduate or professional schools. Inquiry-based laboratory experiments. These require students to “do science” (that is, collect and analyze data, and make predictions based on these analyses) rather than merely repeating and verifying something already known in standard cookbook fashion.

first exam in either of these courses are advised individually to form study groups. In some instances we provide assistance in finding a suitable group. Finally, group study is further promoted by frequent encouragement and by monitoring (by questionnaires) how the group study time is spent. To minimize the number of students who get lost in the system, all students enrolled in General Biology and General Chemistry must meet weekly with their academic advisor (a faculty member in their major department). This is done by awarding a small number of points to students who maintain an up-to-date record of their grades on an “advisor’s card” and get their academic advisor to sign it weekly. In this age of assessment, evidence is needed that this approach gives improved student performance. Two interlocking pieces of evidence show that Xavier’s modified courses are more effective than the traditional courses previously offered here. First of all, a higher percentage of students pass these entry-level science courses now than before the courses were altered. The percentage who pass freshman-level courses in chemistry and biology with a C or higher has increased from approximately 40% before the changes to approximately 60% at present. Second, the students who pass Xavier’s entrylevel science courses now have higher average scores on comparable final exams and/or appropriate standardized exams than did their counterparts before the courses were modified. One of these measures can be artificially improved at the expense of the other; to improve both simultaneously is striking. Another key factor in Xavier’s success has been cooperation and collaboration among faculty members within and across departments. The science faculty most concerned and interested in precollege programs, entry-level courses, and educational issues in general has voluntarily formed an interdisciplinary discussion group — this is known as the Science Education Research Group (SERG). SERG meets weekly to consider the progress of existing programs to increase the number of African Americans with science degrees from Xavier and plan new activities. In

The science faculty . . . has voluntarily formed an interdisciplinary discussion group . . .

Special exercises that help students improve test-taking skills. Students in General Chemistry and, to some extent, in General Biology are repeatedly required to work sections from quantitative or reading sections of such tests as the Graduate Record Exam and the Medical College Admissions Test. Systematic efforts to improve general vocabulary. Students enrolled in General Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and General Physics must study from 40 to 80 general vocabulary words weekly. There are short quizzes in each course that check their knowledge of the words. Systematic efforts to help the students visualize in three dimensions. Students in General Chemistry, General Biology, Organic Chemistry, and General Physics all must build appropriate physical models a number of times in an effort improve ability to visualize in three dimensions. This skill is related to success in most science courses. Systematic effort during the freshman year to get students in General Biology and General Chemistry to form study groups. We advise all students in both of these courses to form study groups as early as the first class meeting of the semester. Students enrolled in General Chemistry are required to work together when solving some of the problems in the drill (problem-solving) sections that accompany the lectures. In addition, students who make a “C” or lower on the

PATHWAY

TO THE

SCIENCES

AT

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

OF

LOUISIANA FAIRNESS, ACCESS,

23

the weekly SERG meetings, faculty often discuss obstacles to student success across departmental lines, and a strategy developed by one department is frequently adopted by others. Perhaps even more importantly, SERG serves as a support group for the faculty involved in these activities. This helps us to avoid one of the most common problems encountered in innovative education — burnout. Additional detail regarding SERG is provided elsewhere (Sevenair, et. al 1987).

Other Support for Undergraduate Science Majors
At least four more factors contribute to XU’s success in preparing African American students for highly competitive science-based graduate and professional schools. All entering students are assigned an academic advisor in their major department as soon as they declare a major. Almost all students at Xavier interested in the sciences declare a major when they enter, so there is interaction between each student and at least one faculty member in the major department beginning in the first week of enrollment at the university. Students in biology and chemistry receive a stream of information about the requirements for entry into graduate and professional schools from the moment they arrive. Because of this XU science students are aware very early of what they must do to gain entry into advanced degree programs, and of the opportunities available for those who earn advanced degrees. Additionally, they have frequent opportunities to talk with recruiters and presenters affiliated with post-graduate programs, approximately forty make presentations on campus each year. Xavier has a widely used, effective interdepartmental peer counseling and tutoring center for students in freshman biology and freshman chemistry. These peer counselors are biology and chemistry majors who completed their entry-level courses in the previous year with good

grades, have proven ability to communicate with the fellow students, and who have been trained to answer twenty basic questions frequently asked by freshmen. Counselors provide both tutoring and basic counseling for students, including basic advice on such matters as financial aid, dropping courses, and off-campus courses. It is relatively easy to get students to go for tutoring because they (correctly) perceive that this tutoring is directly coordinated with the course they are taking. Tutors are paid by funds from Xavier’s grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. All freshmen majoring in biology, chemistry, and psychology-premedicine that have a combined SAT ≥ 940 (on the recentered SAT) and a high school gradepoint average ≥ 1.90 are invited to join Xavier’s “Biomedical Honor Corps” as soon as they are accepted to the university. The students who join (more than 95% of those eligible) receive additional peer counseling and assistance in improving test-taking skills. Their performance is intensively monitored during the critical freshman year, and they participate in activities designed to interest them and prepare them for graduate and professional programs. Freshmen in the Biomedical Honor Corps participate in approximately 20 one-hour workshops. Half of the workshops are held in the first month of the fall semester, to help students get to know one another, and the rest are spread throughout the freshman year. All activities are conducted by upper-level science majors under the supervision of biology and chemistry faculty from the SERG. In order to monitor participation and facilitate make-ups, students complete a short worksheet at each workshop. The Biomedical Honor Corps has approximately 200 participants, so a reasonable amount of individual attention can be provided to each. The SAT/ACT and high school GPA criteria by which new freshmen are selected to participate in the Biomedical Honor Corps have been valicontinued on next page

Students receive information about the requirements for entry into graduate and professional schools from the moment they arrive.

PATHWAY

TO THE

SCIENCES

AT

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

OF

LOUISIANA

24

dated by an extensive-evaluation of XU’s premedical program (Carmichael, Bauer, et al. 1988). Students who are not invited to join the Biomedical Honor Corps at the beginning of the fall semester are invited to join immediately if their performance in freshman biology or freshman chemistry indicates that they have a realistic chance of moving on to a career in the biomedical sciences. Most of the nontraditional support discussed above is purposely concentrated at the freshman level to reduce attrition at the key transition from high school to college. Academic support is reduced as students progress through XU; little extra support is provided in upper-level courses so that students can compete upon graduation. Also, there are research opportunities in the sciences on campus for 30 to 40 students each semester and during the summer. More students, perhaps 75 to 100, attend enrichment or research programs at graduate or professional schools each summer.

ences and communicate well can also play an important role in developing more successful minority students. Also, successful minority peers can alleviate problems caused by a shortage of minority science faculty as role models. 3) High school teachers. High school teachers interact with teenagers on a regular basis. They are often able to get to the heart of students’ personal problems, especially in precollege programs and in entry-level courses. Consequently, it is important that they be involved in developing precollege programs. In establishing links with teachers in urban high schools, it has been our experience that most high school science teachers are somewhat intimidated by college science faculty. They do not believe their opinion will be valued (because it is seldom considered at their home schools), and they are often demoralized by the bad reputation of America’s secondary educational system. Therefore, if such interaction is to be productive, college faculty must treat high school teachers as peers and must interact with them over a period of time. Our links with high school teachers have been easier partly because the Xavier faculty who developed the programs described in this paper had experience teaching at the high school level.

Suggestions for Those Who Might Wish to Reproduce Xavier’s Success
Xavier’s programs were not designed and implemented simultaneously. They were developed one at a time, each one addressing a particular problem in the sciences at Xavier. Because of this, it seems unlikely that these activities could be transplanted intact to other institutions. Even if they were, they probably would not produce the same results; every institution has its own culture and traditions. Those who wish to reproduce Xavier’s success in preparing African American students for careers in science should develop their own programs, perhaps using those at XU as a model. Here is some advice on how to do this. Who to involve (other than administrators, of course): 1) Science faculty. They have the greatest impact on the problem of student retention, if they can overcome their traditional concern that providing support lowers academic standards. Successful minority students. With direction and some resources, successful upper-level students who are in the sci-

How to proceed: 1) Establish support for faculty involved in these efforts as soon as possible. Most American colleges and universities do not reward successful teachers. College professors most often receive raises, promotions, and tenure based on grants and publications. Because of this the most prized positions are usually those that involve research. After that comes teaching graduate and upper-level courses, and the least prized positions of all are those teaching freshmen. As a result, inexperienced or ineffective faculty and teaching assistants are all too often assigned to teach the courses that affect the largest number of students — the

2)

PATHWAY

TO THE

SCIENCES

AT

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

OF

LOUISIANA FAIRNESS, ACCESS,

25

entry-level courses. Programs such as Xavier’s are difficult to establish and maintain not only because they require a lot of work, but also because they run counter to the value and reward system in American higher education. Xavier is a small institution whose administrators have respected teaching and encouraged these programs from the beginning. Beyond this, mechanisms that provide support to faculty are important. The Science Education Research Group (SERG) provides this support at Xavier. Meeting weekly with faculty from other departments who are working on related projects provides a forum to develop strategies to ensure that careers and salaries are not adversely affected by involvement in the activities described in this document. 2) Focus on exit instead of entrance criteria. In an effort to maintain “standards,” most faculty who teach entry-level science courses needlessly eliminate many students who are talented and ambitious but not quite as well prepared or systemsavvy as their peers. Many students in college-level science courses can succeed if they are provided with a relatively small amount of support. Further, our experience indicates that students who succeed in a more nurturing atmosphere can be as competitive at the end of the course or degree program as those who were well prepared at the beginning. We believe that a teacher can maintain standards while, at the same time, providing assistance. In other words, the faculty has to realize that exit criteria, not entrance criteria, are important. Accept student performance as a measure of teaching effectiveness. Contrary to the opinion of too many college-level faculty members, teaching and learning are not separate, unrelated activities; they are different sides of the same coin. If students haven’t learned, or haven’t learned as well as they should, then one should suspect that the faculty hasn’t taught, or hasn’t taught effectively. 4)

Therefore, institutions wishing to develop programs such as those at Xavier should accept student performance as a valid measure of teaching effectiveness, and should use such performance to refine and improve teaching techniques. Almost all students are underprepared in some way, and will benefit from having the objectives of the course laid out clearly. Everyone, even graduate students and faculty, can benefit from clear step-bystep instructions for solving problems. Students will also benefit from frequent examinations and rapid feedback, so they can correct mistakes before they are compounded. The more a teacher lays out the hidden assumptions of a field of study, the better the chance that students from cultural backgrounds different from the instructor’s will be able to succeed. Recognize that freshmen don’t have to learn everything the science faculty member learned while obtaining a Ph.D. College-level science courses, even those at the freshman level have become too concerned with detail. Undergraduates do not need to learn every one nuance of every topic the way their faculty learned them in graduate school. Design programs that cover a reasonable amount of core material (using standardized exams, faculty opinion, and the content of textbooks); cover that thoroughly. In attempting to establish what the content of a course should be, don’t ask science faculty “What should be taught in soand-so course?” They will say, in effect, “everything.” Instead, ask them to establish priorities. At Xavier, standardizing the content of freshman courses was inefficient at first because faculty were asked to identify topics that should be covered from a long list of possibilities. All of the topics were identified as important. We eventually arrived at a reasonable amount of content by forcing faculty to establish priorities among topics. In one useful method, hour exams and finals from previous courses were cut up, and all questions on a given topic were pasted
continued on next page

Freshmen don’t have to learn everything the science faculty learned while obtaining a Ph.D.

3)

PATHWAY

TO THE

SCIENCES

AT

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

OF

LOUISIANA

26

onto a single sheet of paper. Then we told the faculty, “Here is what you collectively taught last year. You may now add anything you wish to be taught in the future — providing you remove an item which takes an equal time to teach.” 5) Don’t concern yourself too much with the scientific community’s conventional wisdom about the undergraduate education. Instead, use common sense to develop solutions to problems, and test them to see if they work. Most collegelevel science faculty devote little time trying to improve or even analyze their teaching because they perceive (correctly) that raises, promotions, and tenure are awarded for other activities. Because of this, they rather easily gravitate toward fads that address peripheral problems or serve as window dressing. For example, they replace relatively cheap, portable books with expensive, fixed-site computers to do drill and practice. They replace hands-on experiments using simple equipment that illustrate basic principles well with high-tech instrumentation that merely teaches a student which button to push. They stress the importance of research as a means of increasing the number of minority students entering the sciences. This conveniently ignores two facts. First, most attrition occurs at a stage when students can do little more in “research” than wash test tubes; and second, the deficit of minorities in the sciences is too great to be remedied by methods that treat only a few students at a time. Therefore, we suspect that it is a waste of time to worry too much about what other scientists think will work. Instead, approach teaching the same way you would laboratory research. Choose the most reasonable procedure to solve a problem, collect careful data to evaluate its effectiveness, and then make adjustments or try something else if the first

procedure doesn’t work. In the meantime, ignore the fact that what you are doing is considered heretical by your colleagues. 6) Accept compromise to get science faculty to “buy into” programs. You can’t write a set of instructions that will get an intelligent, independent person to do exactly what you want and do it effectively if that person doesn’t really believe in the program. Persons initiating programs like those at Xavier should always keep their goal in mind, while allowing the science faculty scope in framing programs to attain that goal. Develop programs that can be conducted for the same price as regular instruction or, if this is not possible, minimize costs to promote longevity. At most colleges and universities, programs such as those at Xavier are initiated when external funds are available and disappear as soon as funding disappears. Xavier’s activities were developed in the mid-1970s and have continued without abatement for over twenty years because the collegelevel activities cost no more than would traditional courses (except in fac-ulty effort) and the precollege summer programs are low enough in cost to be supported from outside agencies.

. . . approach teaching the same way you would laboratory research.

7)

For Further Information
Xavier’s home page on the World Wide Web site may be accessed at http://www.xula.edu. Linkages there provide information about the other activities described in this document.

FAIRNESS, ACCESS, MULTICULTURALISM & EQUITY

THE GRE FAME REPORT

References
Carmichael, JW Jr., and Sevenair, J.P. (1991). Preparing Minorities for Sciences Careers. Issues in Science and Technology, VII: 55-60. Carmichael, JW Jr., J. T. Hunter, D. D. Labat, J. P. Sevenair, and Sr. J. Bauer, S.B.S. (1988). An Educational Pathway into Biology- and Chemistry-Based Careers for Black Americans. Journal of College Science Teaching, 17: 370-374, 405. Carmichael, JW Jr., Sr. J. Bauer, J. T. Hunter, D. D. Labat, and J. P. Sevenair. (1988). An Assessment of a Premedical Program in Terms of its Ability to Serve Black Americans. Journal of the National Medical Association, 80: 1094-1104. Health and Human Services. (1986). Estimates and Projections of Black and Hispanic Physicians, Dentists, and Pharmacists to 2010. DHHS Publication No. HRS-P-DV 86-1. Hilton, T., and Schrader, W. (1987). Pathways to Graduate School: An Empirical Study Based on National Longitudinal Data. (GRE No. 82-21: 2-48). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. National Science Foundation. (1992). Blacks in Undergraduate Science and Engineering Education. Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation. Sevenair, J. P., JW Carmichael, Jr., Sr. J. Bauer, J. T. Hunter, D. D. Labat, H. Vincent, and L. W. Jones. (1987). SERG: A Model for Colleges Without Graduate Programs. Journal of College Science Teaching, 16: 444-446. U.S. Census Reports. (1990).

PATHWAY

TO THE

SCIENCES

AT

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

OF

LOUISIANA

®

54030-15298 • U28M2 • 241342 • Printed in USA

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->