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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Essay

Apply Great Expectations to All

March 31, 2001|SITHARA KHEP | Sithara Khep is a student at El Camino College. Her parents, both Cambodian, fled that country and settled in India, where she was born. She has lived in the United States since she was 7

Awide array of voices have weighed in on the idea put forth by UC President Richard C. Atkinson to abolish the SAT test as a college admissions requirement. The plan purports to help minorities, who have traditionally done poorly on this test. But little mention has been made of the state's second-largest minority group: Asians.

Atkinson's claim that "minority" students fare poorly on the SAT is somewhat misleading. Asians often score higher than whites. To many who oppose the SAT, it's as if Asians don't exist, when, in fact, we make up a disproportionately high percentage of UC students. To draw attention to the huge number of Asian students who score high on the SAT would challenge the idea that the test somehow preserves a "white advantage."

Why the reluctance to mention Asians? The success of Asian students on the SAT (and other standardized tests) calls into question the theories that are used to explain away the poor showing by black and Latino students, who, it is argued, don't do well because such tests are culturally and economically biased. But Asian students, a great proportion of whom are either recent immigrants or the children of immigrants, seem unaffected by these "biases." In that respect, the Asian experience mirrors that of the Jews, most of whom came to the U.S. as poor immigrants, fleeing terrible oppression, encountering intense, often violent racism, xenophobia and deeply embedded cultural biases in their new home. Yet, without any lowering of the bar of educational standards, both Asians and Jews were able to achieve amazing successes in our educational system.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 2, 2001 Home Edition California Part B Page 19 Metro Desk 2 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Test scores disparities--Two attributions were edited out of the March 31 Voices essay by Sithara Khep. The essay originally credited Stanford researcher Claude Steele for the theory that minorities might suffer from stress over negative stereotypes. The reference to "working under the onus of negative stereotypes" came from another column in The Times.

The experiences of Asians and Jews fly in the face of today's liberal cliches about the effects on students of racism, poverty, language differences, etc. Perhaps the experiences of these two groups can suggest a different remedy for the problems of black and Latino students.

Critics of the SAT usually single out the vocabulary section of the test as being especially biased, but why should the vocabulary section be any more biased against blacks or Latinos than against Asians? Most Asian immigrants don't speak English as a first language, and many Asian students grew up speaking languages that are much more removed from English, alphabetically and grammatically, than Spanish is. Yet many Asian students still achieve high scores on the vocabulary section.

Perhaps the real reason for test score disparity can be explained by the stress that comes from working under the onus of negative stereotypes. In other words, black and Latino students do poorly because they are told they can't do any better. This presents a dilemma for today's liberals, because it is from them that black and Latino students hear the endlessly repeated message that they can't be expected to do as well as whites or Asians. Kids respond to the level of expectation that is set for them. Tell a child he's limited in his abilities, and he'll come to believe it.

It is amazing to me that some of the same minority activists who decry the effects of "negative images" on TV will make the most negative statements about the intellectual abilities of minority children.

Stop telling black and Latino children what they can't do. Stop filling their heads with mantras of defeatism. Don't lower the bar on college admissions; raise the bar on student expectations.

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