The Corner

Questions for Sotomayor

Some confirmation questions for Sonia Sotomayor, who announced in a video from the early 1990s that she was the victim of “cultural biases” in standardized testing. There were “reasons” for her low SAT and LSAT scores, she explained on a panel discussing women in the judiciary: “There are cultural biases built into testing, and that was one of the motivations for the concept of affirmative action to try to balance out those effects.”

Questions for the judge:

‐What exactly are the cultural biases to which she refers? For the last four decades, the College Board has scoured its exams for any stray reference to “regatta” or “golf.” The Board throws out questions on which minorities and women score unusually low. Does she have evidence that standardized tests today employ any vocabulary or concepts that are limited to any particular group or class? Or does she regard any difference in test-score outcomes as prima facie proof of discrimination? Is it possible that some groups are actually not as academically prepared as others?

‐How would she suggest changing the exams to eliminate such alleged biases?

‐Is it biased to expect reasoning skills or a grasp of language and writing?

‐Why do the “cultural biases” of tests affect only some minority groups, and not others? Asians have not exactly held the reins of power in political, economic, or educational circles over the last 200 years, yet they outperform whites on most standardized tests. Have they somehow managed to manipulate test construction in their favor? Or do they apply themselves more assiduously to education than anyone else?

‐Minorities admitted to elite institutions with sub-par scores on admissions tests end up, on average, in the bottom of their classes, as UCLA law professor Richard Sander has demonstrated in law-school admissions. Almost all black students are admitted to law school with drastically lower college and LSAT grades than their white and Asian peers earned. After their first year of legal education, 51 percent of blacks are in the bottom tenth of their class; two-thirds are in the bottom fifth. Blacks are four times as likely as whites to fail the bar exam on their first try. Such results would suggest that standardized tests are not biased or arbitrary, but in fact measure actual skills needed to succeed in school and beyond. How does the judge explain the strong correlation between test scores and educational performance? Or is the entirety of law school biased against certain minority groups? And if so, in what way?

‐Does it help minority students’ academic motivation to tell them that the educational system is biased against them?

‐If given a choice between sending her mother to a doctor who was hired by a hospital under pressure to improve its “diversity” profile and to another doctor hired on merit alone, would she be indifferent between the two? 


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