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SAT Officials Hope to Score High in Eliminating Racial Bias

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Administrators of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) have announced with great fanfare that they overhauling the standardized tool that helps determine whether an applicant will get accepted into the college of his or her choice. But in revamping the test, SAT officials are facing a test of their own.

“The redesign is trying to get a sense of what students learned in high school…and trying to help students demonstrate their critical thinking skills instead of just picking an answer. And that’s all well and good,” said Michelle Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a college-access policy think tank. “But the real question is, are all students getting the same opportunity to learn those skills before they get to college? Students, especially low-income Black students, often go to schools that are under-resourced. Will they have ever been exposed to the type of questions to be asked on this test, or will it all just reinforce the bias we already see?”

In part because of what some perceive as racial and cultural bias – along with poor schools – many Blacks don’t do well on the standardized test.

Last year, only 15.6 percent of African American students who took the SAT reached or exceeded College Board’s ‘SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark’ score of 1550 (out of 2400 possible points). According to College Board, the nonprofit education giant that created and develops the exam, this score is associated with a 65 percent chance of earning a college freshman year GPA of a B- or higher. This figure was up from 14.8 percent in 2012.

Averaged scores for individual sections of the SAT were lowest among African American test takers, hovering around 430 (out of 800) per section. The average scores for their White and Asian American counterparts were in the mid- to upper-500s. Everyone else’s scores – Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, “Other” Latinos, and students identifying as “other”—averaged about 450 and above.

Although the test’s intended use is to assess college readiness, researchers, educators, and policy makers allege that it has had a hand in creating the access disparities it now intends to fight.

For example, there are the test-prep courses and books that give students an edge—if they can afford it. College Board’s online course is currently $69.95 and the book is $31.99; another popular option is Kaplan’s SAT classroom prep for $699, or if on a budget, its online course is $299.

“Testing is a big money-making industry at this point. The SAT is inherently flawed,” says Okaikor Aryee-Price, who taught eleventh grade for 11 years and now teaches seventh grade while pursuing a doctorate in Instructional Design. “Standardized tests came out of the eugenics movement, to say that people of color were not as intelligent as Whites. They’re not used the same way anymore, but they still test the same things. These access gaps were intentionally created.”

Even post-secondary institutions have begun to wonder whether the SAT is worth their time. According to a list compiled by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, more than 800 colleges and universities have gone “test-optional” or “test-flexible” (meaning it is either only partially counts toward admissions considerations, or not at all). The list includes highly ranked institutions such as New York University, American University, and University of Texas at Austin.

However, the majority of colleges and universities require SAT scores (or its competitor, the ACT) as part of the application. Many schools (and organizations) also use these scores as thresholds for awarding grants and scholarships.

Still, College Board says the redesign is in direct response to these and other questions and criticisms.

For starters, they’re expanding two existing programs that provide personalized college information packets along with four college application fee waivers, to high-achieving low-income students. The organization will also make free test-prep programs and practice materials available for all students.

“Our members, including admission officers, school counselors, teachers, and students, have called on us to change the SAT and go beyond assessment to deliver opportunity,” the College Board explained on its website. “Our goal is to support college readiness and success for more students and to make sure that those who are prepared take full advantage of the opportunities they’ve earned through their hard work.”

According to College Board data, African Americans have consistently had the lowest average score on the essay portion since 2005, when it was added to the test. The new SAT makes the essay portion optional. Students will still have to write the essay—it simply may or may not count toward their score, depending on the discretions of their intended colleges, and their high school district.

According to Patte Barth, director of the Center for Public Education for the National School Boards Association, the essay option will likely get mixed reviews.

“School systems right now are already under pressure anyway with all these changes related to implementing [K-12] Common Core standards,” she explains, adding that 45 states and the District of Columbia are mired in the curriculum transition. “To the degree that the SAT is better able to align to what high schools are teaching, alleviates one issue—because if the curriculum teaches on thing and then teachers have to stop to teach another thing for this test it is frustrating.”

The essay section is designed to more closely resemble actual high school and college assignments, and will now be based on analyzing a reading passage. The prompt itself will be disclosed to students in advance and will remain constant from exam to exam; only the reading material will change each time the test is taken.

The essay section was changed and made optional for two reasons: There is no data to suggest that one essay is predictive of college success; and because there was no consensus among college admissions officers regarding the value of the essay.

Other changes to the test include eliminating questions on flowery “SAT vocabulary words;” abandoning point deductions for incorrect answers; and shrinking the focus of math sections to more common branches (i.e. algebra and word problem-solving).

“Because a test alone can’t change student outcomes, assessments such as the SAT must be integrated with rigorous classroom instruction, and through their results, propel students to greater opportunities,” a statement reads. “The redesigned SAT will ask students to apply a deep understanding of the few skills and content areas most important for college and career readiness. The questions will be more familiar to students because they’ll be modeled on the work of the best classroom teachers.”

Not everyone is convinced.

“It all sounds like double-talk to me,” says Bernard Hamilton, president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators. “We want to make college more accessible, so let’s make a new test so we can eliminate students based on the test? If a state measures student results in your district based on the test, then schools will change their curriculum to reflect that test, since they are being evaluated on it. The test goes from being a predictor of college success…to being used outside of why it was created.”

The new SAT will be administered for the first time in 2016, as today’s high-school freshmen begin preparing for college.

Cooper said, “I’m positively optimistic that the redesign will help many students [gain access], but I want to make sure they are addressing the inherent cultural, racial, and income bias that has long been a staple of the SAT.”

Blacks More Likely to Bully and Be Bullied than Other Groups

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Blacks, who are already more likely than other racial groups to be involved in situations that involve bullying, both as a victim and as a perpetrator, are subjected to additional bullying because of other complicating factors, including poverty, according to scholars and experts on the subject.

“African Americans have higher rates of bullying. When I looked at the factors, they were all overlapping with health and social disparity,” said Maha Mohammad Albdour, who is examining bullying as part of her doctoral studies in Community Health Nursing at Wayne State University. Her research findings were published this month in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.

“There is a lot of interest in bullying, but…. [t]his population has a lot going on related to social and health disparities, so maybe the experience is different from other populations,” Albdour stated.

According to her research, Black children are more likely to be involved in bullying (as aggressor, victim, or bystander) than other groups. Additionally, Stopbullying.gov, a federal resource, found that Black and Hispanic children who are bullied are more likely to do poorly in school than their White counterparts.

They are also more likely to possess characteristics that make them a target for bullying. According to some studies, children who are perceived as “different” – through sexuality or gender identity, lower socio-economic status than their peers, or pronounced weight differences (over or under), are more likely to be bullied.

As of 2010, 51 percent of Black children ages 2 to 19 had been told by a doctor that they were overweight, according to the Office of Minority Health. But such factors and the effects they bring can be mitigated by a trusted adult’s presence.

“For African American children, family was a strong predicting factor,” Albdour says. “[Family] can even act as a buffer for community violence. If there is communication, cohesion, and the parents are involved in the child’s school life, it has a huge preventative effect.”

Albdour’s research mirrors a newly released report, titled, “Peer Victimization in Fifth Grade and Health in Tenth Grade.”

The report, which appears in the March issue of Pediatrics, tracked more than 4,000 students’ experiences over time, surveying them in fifth grade (when the prevalence of bullying peaks), in seventh grade, and in 10th grade.

While the study did nog specifically examine race, the researchers found that kids who are bullied, especially for prolonged periods, are more likely to experience poor mental and physical health in adolescence and beyond.

As fifth graders, almost a third of students questioned who reported being victims of bullying exhibited poor psychological health, compared to the 4.3 percent who were not bullied.

By seventh grade, those who reported being bullied in the past were better off—the percentage of students exhibiting signs of a poor quality of life as fifth graders was cut in half if the bullying had stopped by seventh grade.

However, the rate of emotional trouble was highest among 10th graders who reported being bullied both in the past and present, with nearly 45 percent showing signs of serious distress. This group of chronically bullied 10th graders had the highest rates of low self-worth, depression, and poor quality of life (and the second-highest rates of poor physical health, after those who were being bullied in the present only).

“Any victimization is bad, but it has stronger effects depending on whether it continues or not,” says Laura Bogart, the author of the study. “If the bullying experience happens in fifth grade, you can still see effects in 10th grade.”

Those effects manifest in myriad detrimental ways for children involved in bullying—but the repercussions differ depending on how the child is involved.

Stopbullying.gov says that kids who bully others are more likely to be violent, vandalize property, drop out of school, and have sex early. As adults, they are more likely to have criminal convictions and traffic citations, and abuse romantic partners. Warning signs include aggression, difficulty accepting responsibility for one’s own actions, and a competitive spirit that is concerned with reputation or popularity.

The site advises that kids who are bullied “are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy.”

“There are subtle signs,” Bogart says. “If a child doesn’t want to go to school all of a sudden, or if they’re in their room a lot. If they’re sad or angry, or if they’re not talking about other kids and friends from school [for example].”

The kids who experience the most far-reaching consequences are bully-victims—kids who are victims in one area of their lives, and victimize others in another.

“Bully-victims are the most afflicted. They have more substance abuse, more social problems…and this is true across ethnicities,” Albdour explains. “You can expect bully-victims to internalize problems, then act out. It results in them being an aggressive person as an adult.”

Parents can play a vital role.

“One argument is that there should be immediate and early intervention, and parents should be aware of what’s going on in their child’s life through good communication with their child,” Bogart says.

In the case of Black children, anti-discrimination/civil rights laws can be applied if harassment is race-based. As StopBullying.gov explains, “There is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying. In some cases, when bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, bullying overlaps with harassment and schools are legally obligated to address it.”

States seem to be showing more sensitivity in addressing bullying.

“In almost every state there is a law that schools have to have anti-bullying policy, and it usually involves parents,” Bogart says. “Now, there’s a lot less talk of ‘kids just do that’ or ‘boys will be boys.’ We are evolving as a nation.”

Unemployment Rate for Black Women Falls to Single Digits

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – During another slow month of economic recovery, the unemployment rate for Black women 20 years and older fell to 9.9 percent in February, the lowest rate for that group in five years, according to the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, Black men and Black teenagers continue to lag behind other major worker groups.

In March 2009, the unemployment rate for Black men 20 years and over was 15.4 percent. According to the latest jobs report, the jobless rate for Black men is 12.9 percent, the same rate recorded in February 2013.

The unemployment rate for White men 20 years and older was 6.3 percent a year ago and now it is down to 5.5 percent. The unemployment rate for White women was 6 percent in February 2013 and has declined to 5.1 percent in February 2014.

The economy added 175,000 jobs in February and the jobs numbers for December and January were revised up for a net gain of 25,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate ticked up a little to 6.7 percent, most likely because some workers became more optimistic about finding a job and re-entered the labor force, said Bernard Anderson, an economist and professor emeritus at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“The February report is an accurate indication of where the economy is now,” said Valerie Wilson, who was recently named director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute. “We are in a recovery. Things are moving in the right direction, but they are moving very slowly and until we are able to increase demand to a point where employers start hiring again, we are going to continue to see these slow job reports.”

The number of long-term unemployed workers increased by 203,000 according to the Labor Department, accounting for 37 percent of the unemployed. Blacks account for 23 percent of the long-term unemployed in the United States.

“The longer people are out of work their skills erode more and they face discrimination in hiring,” said Wilson. “They have a difficult time getting into the labor force the longer they’ve been out. It’s a matter of labor underutilization. We have people that are willing ready and able to work, but are unable to find jobs.”

Wilson said that increasing the minimum wage and extending emergency unemployment compensation to millions of Americans would likely increase demand and stimulate the economy, two proposals that have come under fire on Capitol Hill.

In a statement on the Labor Department’s jobs report, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a member of the Joint Economic Committee, said that we must ensure that every American has the opportunity to participate in the job market and receive fair compensation for that work.

“It is past time for an up-or-down vote on raising the minimum wage, which would lift hundreds of thousands of Americans out of poverty and help us address the growing economic inequality in our nation,” said Cummings. “America succeeds when we can all earn a livable wage.”

Black Male Initiative Must Address Structural Racism

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – If President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative expands educational and work opportunities for young Black and Hispanic males, but fails to address the burdens of structural racism that threaten their lives, the program might not succeed, some community activists believe.

“Let’s say they do all the right things, let’s say they excel in the classroom, let’s say they are involved in community activities, but then they go out on the street and they are harassed by police, profiled and arrested,” said Walter Fields, executive editor of the NorthStar News a news website that caters to African American. “Or they go to college and they get a degree, then they go out on the labor market and they are discriminated against. How do we control that, after you have told these young men that they have to rise above it and be better, then they run into a system that is designed to cut them down?”

President Obama launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in the East Room of the White House, joined by key players in business, philanthropy and public policy. Philanthropic foundations and private corporations have pledged $200 million dollars over the next five years in an effort to “to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential,” the president said.

Obama said that he was inspired to create the initiative following the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, Black teen who was pursued, shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Fla. Martin’s shooting and Zimmerman’s ultimate acquittal of murder, sparked nationwide protests and an investigation by the Justice Department.

Since then, a similar case has been in the news.

Michael Dunn, a White computer programmer, shot to death Jordan Davis, another Black teenager in Florida in the parking lot of a Jacksonville, Fla., convenience store following an argument over what Dunn described as “thug music” playing in the teen’s SUV.

Like George Zimmerman before him, Dunn was found not guilty of a first-degree murder charge in the death of Davis. Unlike Zimmerman, Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted murder.

Jawanza Kunjufu, a prominent educated who has written extensively about Black males, said that he’s in total support of what the president is doing with his initiative, worries that financial support pledged so far will be enough to prevent more parents from mourning the loss of their young sons due to gun violence.

“I don’t know if money could have eliminated what happened to Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis,” said Kunjufu.

While some openly express doubts about the president’s new plan, many others applauded President Obama for raising the visibility of the startling racial disparities that exist in education, the labor market and the criminal justice system that cripple a generation that must shoulder the future economic prosperity of a country that has largely forgotten them.

By the time they reach fourth grade, 86 percent of Black boys are reading below grade level compared to 58 percent of White boys who read below proficiency levels. Even though the national graduation rate for Black males increased from 42 percent to 52 percent from 2001 -2010, according to a report on public education and Black males by the Schott Foundation, “It would take nearly 50 years for Black males to secure the same high school graduation rates as their White male peers.”

According to a 2011 report by the Children’s Defense Fund, “A Black child is only half as likely as a White child to be placed in a gifted and talented class. A Black child is more than one and a half times as likely as a White child to be placed in a class for students with emotional disturbances.”

An overwhelming majority of Black students enrolled in special education programs are males and at the other end of spectrum, White females are least likely to land in special education programs, said Kunjufu. Differences in learning styles between male and female students and an inability of teachers to relate to Black male students contribute to the stigmatization of the group targeted by the president’s new initiative.

According to a 2011 study by The National Center for Education Information (NCEI), a private, non-partisan research group in Washington, D.C. 84 percent of public school teachers are White and 7 percent are Black.

Black males account for 10 percent of Black teachers and less than 2 percent of all teachers, White females account for 85 percent of White teachers and more than 70 percent of all teachers.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), “when out-of-school suspension rates were examined by race, one in five black males and more than one in 10 black females were suspended in 2009-2010—higher than any other race.”

CRDC data also showed that Black students account for 18 percent of national student enrollment and 42 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 35 percent of arrests, compared to White students who account for more than half of all students, 25 percent of law enforcement referrals and 21 percent of arrests.

Kunjufu said that getting more Black male teachers into our nation’s classrooms has to be a part any strategy that seeks to provide better educational opportunities and outcomes for young Black males.

“It’s very important for students to see teachers that look like them,” said Kunjufu. “The question becomes, are school districts and superintendents willing to go the extra mile to recruit African American male teachers?”

Like others who have waited for a targeted program like this from the White House, Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, a group that works for social, political, economic and reform that impacts the Black community, said that the “My Brother’s Keeper” programs have to be multi-faceted.

“It’s not just about mentoring. Mentoring by itself won’t end these problems,” said Daniels. “There will be some who will be able to change their behavior and to escape and to be successful, but to look for [solutions] alone absent structural issues is to virtually take a Booker T. Washington approach: clean up, brush up, paint up have good values look decent and everything will be fine.”

Daniels added: “Well, everything won’t be fine. It’ll take more than that.”

The Black community shouldn’t expect the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to solve those structural issues alone.

Daniels said that Attorney General Eric Holder’s aggressive push to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, to reform mandatory sentencing guidelines, and to reduce the disparities in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine has to work in tandem with the “My Brother’s Keeper.”

Young Blacks continue to be over-represented in a criminal justice system that cost the United States economy $57 billion to $65 billion per year in lost output of goods and services related to depressed wages and underemployment of ex-offenders.

Even as the president urged business and civic leaders, members of the faith community and foundations to support this new initiative he often returned to a “no excuses” message directed squarely at the young Black and Hispanic males as he tip-toed lightly around the structural racism that will likely slow their at success and better lives. It’s a message that has generated eye rolling from Black thought leaders throughout his presidency.

“What the president is saying, in a very coded way is that, ‘Yeah, we know racism exists, but you have to rise above it,’” said Fields. “I don’t know how you rise above it. We’ve never risen above it. We’ve managed it, but we’ve never truly risen above it.”

Fields continued: “The difficulty in offering this critique is that there is so little done for this population that you hate to criticize anything that is done [them]. But when it comes from the most powerful elected official in the world, we have to hold him to a higher standard.”

GOP Quashes Congressional Black Caucus Attempt to Oust Issa

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The Congressional Black Caucus, upset by the recent treatment of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) as the ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee by its chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), sent a letter on Thursday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) calling for Issa be stripped of his chairmanship.

“The American people have the right to expect that their elected leaders be held to the highest possible standards of conduct,” CBC chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said in the letter. “Congressional committee leaders are held to an even higher standard due to their unique positions. The abuse of authority and misuse of the congressional privileges afforded them are an affront to the expectations of the American public.”

On Wednesday, former IRS employee Lois Lerner refused to testify during a committee hearing about the agency’s alleged targeting of tea party organizations, citing the Fifth Amendment. When Cummings was scheduled to speak on the matter, Issa ordered the Baltimore Democrat’s microphone closed and stopped the hearing.

Fudge noted that other members of the committee were also prevented by Issa from commenting and that he violated several House rules and common customs by doing so.

“Mr. Issa is a disgrace and should not be allowed to continue in a leadership role,” Fudge said. “As the speaker, you are responsible for maintaining decorum and appropriate conduct in the House of Representatives and ordering the Sergeant at Arms to enforce House rules. We urge you to take prompt action to maintain the integrity of this body and remove Mr. Issa as chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee immediately.”

House Republicans backed Issa, however, voting down the Fudge-led Democratic resolution to formally censure him regarding the matter. Boehner also tentatively supported Issa, saying the chairman had a right to cut Cummings’s mic.

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