Posted tagged ‘SATs’

Getting the point

December 16, 2008

For the curious, this blog now comes to you from California, where I am attending an event this evening before returning to Ireland tomorrow.

At this morning’s event with President McAleese in Phoenix, Arizona, the President of Arizona State University, Dr Michael Crow, made an interesting point. He said that the best predictor of final school results (SATs in the US, Leaving Certificate in Ireland) was not the student’s talents, learning or skills, but his or her zip code (or post code). If,  his argument was, you determine university access through examination results, you may think you are applying an objective standard that is blind to class, race and background, but in reality you are doing the opposite. So the first step to tackling educational disadvantage at tertiary level is to accept that a points-based system is inherently discriminatory. What is worse, it is discrimination masquerading as even-handed objectivity.

I don’t know, in any scientific sense, whether this holds true for Ireland also. I suspect it does. We know that, nationally, over 50 per cent of an age cohort go to university or college. But we also know that in certain areas (some of them very close to DCU) a significant majority of young people will not achieve the points needed to go to college. Is this because people in those areas are inherently less intelligent? Of course not. So if we apply a points system we are saying that the perceived (but unachieved) objectivity of examination results should trump social exclusion concerns.

I have pointed out in the past that the points system has a number of undesirable effects, including its tendency to push students into subject areas which are not national priorities. I should now add what I would regard the clincher: that it is a framework that entrenches social exclusion.

We urgently need a national debate on this, and to move towards getting something that is better, in the national interest and in the interests of equity and non-discrimination. The time for that debate is now.