AT FIRST GLANCE, it's a terribly appealing idea. A House subcommittee is now briskly proceeding with a bill giving students a legal right to see their college entrance examinations, with the questions and the corrected answers. For good measure, the bill would also establish broad federal supervision over all admissions testing. On a second and closer look, this legislation becomes less appealing.
Some of the support for it comes from people who simply think that students ought to be able to review their exams and see where they fell short. But some comes from people who want to change the nature of the tests, and the whole admissions process, on grounds that these are tilted against the poor and the minorities. Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), the author of the principal bill under consideration, says that he doesn't want to regulate the tests. But his bill clearly lays the foundation for a regulatory system.
Young Americans take these tests by the millions every year for admission to college or professional school. The most widely used, the College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test, is given more than 20 times a year throughout the country and abroad. Each new edition picks up a good many questions from the previous one, to ensure that the scores on a test given on one date will be comparable to those of another.
But Mr. Weiss' bill would require the College Board, after each test is scored, to give the student both the questions and the answers. Since the questions would immediately be passed around to other students, they could hardly be used again. The cost of the tests would go up, and the reliability of the scores would probably go down.If you think that competitive admissions tests are wrong in principle, fine. Certainly test scores aren't the only criterion for admissions. But to diminish their usefulness would force colleges to depend on the other and more subjective measures -- not necessarily an advantage to the youngster who doesn't fit the usual pattern.
Mr. Weiss wants the scores reported to Congress by students' family income, race, sex and ethnic origin. What, precisely, do you suppose he has in mind? It's obvious that the children of educated middle-class parents tend to make higher scores than the children of poor and uneducated parents. But the increasing use of these tests has demonstrably been accompanied, even at the most rigorously selective colleges, by increased enrollments of children from disadvantaged families.
But not everybody likes the idea of an independent testing board run by the colleges that use it. The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' organization, warmly supports the Weiss bill. Under it, the oversight of testing would reside in the new Department of Education, if Congress is unwise enough to create one. The strongest political influence within that new department would be the NEA. That's another reason for concluding that the Weiss bill has dangerous implications that go far beyond its author's stated intentions.