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Editorial: The hopeful demise of standardized tests

Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 12, 1999
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U.S. District Court Judge's decision Monday to stop the NCAA from using standardized test scores to determine an athlete's eligibility is a bold and proper judicial move.

Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT have long been considered racially biased and poor indicators of potential higher education success. Judge Ronald Buckwalter's decision comes as welcome statement: that a biased test used as an eligibility requirement amounts to a biased eligibility requirement and a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The NCAA rule, Proposition 16, requires an 820 combined SAT score or a 66 ACT score for a student to be eligible for athletics in their first year of college no matter how the students performed academically in high school. Thus, when plaintiffs Leatrice Shaw and Tae Kwan, who both finished in the top 10 percent of their class, bombed the ethnically slanted SAT, they were excluded from student athletics in their freshman year. The very idea that a standardized test whose fairness falls in such low repute would keep these students off the playing field is a prima face violation of their civil rights.

One is left with two hopes subsequent to Buckwalter's decision: 1. that it sticks, and 2. that it translates to college admissions in general.

The NCAA has run screaming for a stay of the decision. The collegiate athletics oversight group claims the "situation facing the membership can only be described as chaotic" in the wake of the judge's ruling. And, according to the CNN/SI, if the decision stands, ineligible students could walk on to the NCAA Men's and Women's tournament floors without consequence.

For those students to pick up a basketball, however, would be an image of justice rather than chaos. The NCAA protests, which request at least three years to institute changes if the ruling isn't overturned, would sound reasonable and proper if not for the group's dismal reputation on race and gender issues. The NCAA is, after all, an organization still fighting for exemption from Title IX, a nearly 30-year-old law that requires equal gender opportunities in federally funded institutions. The NCAA is no defender of student rights, but rather a defender of the desires of rich boosters: minorities and women need apply in small numbers.

Particularly sad in light of the NCAA's reputation for everything from academic policies to gender equity is the UA's own close relationship to the group. Former UA athletic director Cedric Dempsey serves as the NCAA executive director and defender of the status quo.

One hopes that, with Buckwalter's decision in place, the dominance of the ACT and SAT in determining college admissions will fall by the wayside. It is not difficult to see how the entire college admissions process, and the role standardized tests play in those admissions, may violate the Title VI rights of many would-be college students. No longer, with Buckwalter's decision, is the idea that a test can in fact be ethnically and socioeconomically biased so radical. If this is a country of opportunity for all, our admissions standards shouldn't shut the door on a group of people because of their background. Surely someone in the top 10 percent of their class should be afforded all the rights and privileges of being a college students, from academics to athletics. Anything less would be offensive.