Anti-Semitic History of the SATs
Below is an overview of the history of how the SATs began, as well as further anti-Semitic behaviors by academic establishments in the United States from 1900s — 1960s. Today, we still see segregated education practices through the scores that students are assigned during standardized testing, that ultimately follow them through their academic careers.
Please note, pictures of Carl Brigham and Stanley Kaplan have been included as linked sources at the end of the write-up.
BRIEF SAT OVERVIEW
Carl Brigham, remembered as an “ardent eugenicist and unabashed racist and anti-Semite”, created the SATs in 1920s, using his base testing from an army intelligence test. Additionally, Brigham wrote a piece titled “A Study of American Intelligence”, where he laid out his beliefs of three dominate white races (Mediterranean, Nordic, and Alpine), with Nordic being the “top” race. Brigham argued that we needed his standardized testing in order to increase the intelligence of the American race, due to the “racial mixture” of the country. In layman’s terms, he created a test for higher education institutions to use that would effectively push out, in Brigham’s mind, substandard individuals (e.g. Hispanics, African Americans, Jewish Americans), and allow for greater percentages of white races to succeed. After Brigham’s death in 1943 at the age of 52, Stanley Kaplan, a Jewish American, began creating preparatory courses and tests to help students improve their scores, which proved that the SAT “did not measure innate intelligence pure and simple.” Nicholas Lemann, author of “The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy”, argues that the current problem we are facing is not with the affirmative actions that individuals are taking to put an end to preferential treatment, but with the test itself. Instead of seeking out “students who reflect the socioeconomic, cultural, and racial diversity of our pluralistic world”, we are instead choosing through students through a means (standardized testing, in particular the SAT), that simply lumps them into a historically unfair number.
ACADEMIC INSTITUTION discrimination
A Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard from 1909 – 1933, openly and publicly stated he tried to “limit the number of Jewish students” who were admitted to the university. Lowell wrote letters to a philosophy professor at the university, where he expressed his concerns that if they admitted a high number of Jewish students, it would effectively “ruin the college” as, in his mind, elite Protestant students would attend other schools. Lowell came up with percentage quotas that he wanted to implement in the admissions process, in order to limit the number of Jewish students in attendance. 15% was his proposed limit for Jewish students, as he was annoyed that the Jewish population at Harvard had risen from 7% in 1900 (of freshmen) to 28% in 1925. Further, he wanted to impose more restrictions on how Jewish students were chosen, stating that he wanted to only admit “Hebrews…[who] possessed extraordinary intellectual capacity together with character above criticism.”
While his proposal was rejected by the Committee of Admissions as they didn’t want to publicly acknowledge admissions discrimination, the university ultimately began to evaluate students on their “character”, rather than just their academic performance. This change in the admissions processes began in 1926, with Harvard additionally limiting the number of students admitted each year to 1,000. Harvard stated, “it is neither feasible nor desirable to raise the standards of the College so high that non but brilliant scholars can enter”, and they began to interview prospective students to learn more about their character, and what they could offer Harvard in the future. In addition to these new admissions processes, Harvard required all applications to include a passport-sized photo of the applicant. Other colleges began to adopt similar policies (e.g. Yale, Princeton), and further began to introduce legacy admissions through the 1960s, in order to “maintain a predominately Protestant student body.” After the end of WWII and into the 1960s, Harvard began to shift their policies on admissions and their underlying discrimination tactics, due to a growing number of the American population embracing meritocratic beliefs (e.g., individuals who progress due to their ability and talents, instead of class privilege and family wealth). Notably, it was Jewish Americans in New York who first began to embrace this mindset and prove their advancement despite the negative perceptions held by old academic societies, and Harvard fell in line in order to remain relevant.
Yet, it is important to note that in recent years, Harvard has been accused of repeating the same behaviors towards Asian Americans as they did towards Jewish applicants.
In 2015, 64 Asian American groups filed a complaint against the university, stating they were using quotas (similar to what was proposed by Lowell), in order to limit how many students are admitted, in particular Asian students, in order to keep a “racially balanced” class. Part of their complaint lists research done on the SAT scores of student applications, which shows “far higher” scores of Asian applicants than those of non-Asian decent that are ultimately admitted into the university. Unfortunately, these claims are near impossible to prove true, as the admission's council can easily explain away why an Asian student wasn’t admitted, regardless of her high test scores. For example, they could claim that due to a student’s potential major, say science, that they didn’t want to admit her due to a focus on applicants pursuing political science. Or if a student is from the Boston region, Harvard could state that they are focusing on applicants from Midwest or southern states. Harvard is not the only school to face racial discrimination criticism in their applicant process in recent years. Princeton University received similar complaints in 2006 and 2011, and both were ultimately dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
DISCRIMINATION IN MODERN AMERICA
In today’s society, racial discrimination is still prominent in standardized testing. While anti-Semitic discrimination is not as publicly prominent, there are numerous minorities (African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans) that face educational discrimination. Through a test, schools are able to label students with a number based on their scores, and when a student of “black, brown, and immigrant youth” performs poorly, they are labeled as failing. From there, they are targeted with which education services they receive, based on their score and are made to feel they need to improve. For example, let’s say an African American student receives a low score, and is then set-up to receive academic resources aimed at improving math and English skills. These services usually take place at school, over a child’s recess or music class time. Often times, the resources are too expensive for a low-income student to utilize. A minority student, who scored low on a standardized test, either A, loses their access to arts and enrichment activities at school by having to replace them with further math and English classes or B, they fall further behind (by society’s standards), as additional resources are unaffordable. In 2012, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), which is a branch of the United States Department of Education, released a study that showed an equity gap based on the availability of arts and music programs in schools. Low-poverty schools are consistently offered extra non-traditional academic options, including arts, social studies, government, and music programs. Students in high-poverty schools, who are subsequently economically disadvantaged, do not receive the same programs, and are instead limited to increasing their aptitude on math and English standardized testing.
This method of education only further reduces a student to simply a number in the education system, and for minority students with a low testing score and no extra circular activities made available, finds it increasingly difficult to receive higher education.
Carl Brigham designed the SATs with a clear goal in mind: to limit the number of Jewish students admitted into higher education institutions in The United States, in order to favor what he considered the "top" races in society — white races. As a rebuttal, Stanley Kaplan designed preparatory courses to help Jewish students increase their scores. Kaplan Prep is now one of the largest resources for students for testing practice. Today, we still see racial and socioeconomic discrimination in standardized testing, through unfair advantages given to students with higher scores.