Remembering Brown with Reminders that Hurdles Remain
WASHINGTON — Ethnic diversity is considered a valuable commodity on the nation’s college campuses and has not lowered student quality, according to a series of reports jointly released last month by the American Council on Education and American Association of University Professors here.Meanwhile, participants of a forum sponsored by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund say that although the demand for higher standards has spawned an increase in the use of standardized tests to assess achievement, many of the testing strategies are having a negative impact on the education of minority students. The forum, held at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building, and the reports’ release later the same day on the campus of Georgetown University, occurred May 17, the anniversary of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that desegregated the nation’s public schools. The events were timed to demonstrate that hurdles remain in the struggle for educational equity 46 years after that landmark decision despite proof that diversity is beneficial to higher education.“Many school districts across the country are under intense pressure to raise student achievement,” says Elaine R. Jones, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Unfortunately, some have begun using standardized tests as an independent and sole determinant of whether students are retained in grade, tracked into special education classes or denied a diploma.”The negative impact of those policies has led U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., to introduce congressional legislation known as the Fairness and Accuracy in Student Testing Act. The bill would prohibit the use of test scores as the sole determinant of a student’s future, Jones says.Aside from Scott, Wellstone and Jones, the forum included four researchers whose works were compiled into a publication titled High Stakes Testing: Uses and Consequences. The researchers were Dr. Robert M. Hauser of the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment; Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Dr. Ann McCoy, a senior research associate with Decision Information Resources Inc.; and Dr. Jeannie Oakes, associate dean of the University of California-Los Angeles’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. According to one of the three reports released at Georgetown, University Faculty Views About the Value of Diversity on Campus and in the Classroom by Geoffre Maruyama and José F. Moreno, 59 percent of faculty at the nation’s premier research institutions believe that their schools place a high priority on a diverse campus environment. Additionally, 69 percent believe their institutions value the importance of a diverse student body and another 62 percent believe their institutions value the importance of a diverse faculty.Of these same faculty members, less than 9 percent felt that the institution’s commitment to diversity has lowered the quality of students attending the institution and just 6 percent believe that the quality of the institution has been lowered by its commitment to diversity. Additionally, more respondents felt that diversity is important in the development of critical thinking than those who did not (42.2 percent to 38.5 percent) and more respondents felt that it was important in the development of leadership qualities than those who did not (47 percent to 29 percent).The reports demonstrate that increased diversity is “not only a means of providing equal opportunity but [it is also] a critical academic tool,” says Dr. Stanley O. Ikenberry, president of the American Council on Education.
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