Response to today’s conversation

Commenters on the AJC Get Schooled blog debated whether high test scores on standardized tests, including the SAT and ACT, reflect kids born into economically comfortable families who have incredible advantages and thus enjoy more accumulated opportunity. Here is a sampling of comments under posters’ screen names:

Looking: Equality of opportunity does not always mean equality of outcome. The students aren't successful because one part of that equation is missing. I wonder which one. As a former teacher, I know of many students who excelled on the SAT with the following formula: Caring/supportive parents plus teachers who wouldn't allow them to slide by plus sheer determination equals students with good SAT scores who are successful in life.

Bernie: The cost of incarceration is approximately $130 per day per inmate. The cost of the failure of our educational process is far greater to all of us. Ensuring better test preparation for all students is to our collective advantage. The SAT is just a measure and an indication as to where we are along that path of failure, nothing more.

Mathmom: Most, if not all, school-related achievement/performance measures are strongly affected by students' accumulated opportunities or lack thereof. That is not to say individual students are unable to overcome their disadvantages — and there is also no guarantee that individual students will be able to take advantage of favorable circumstances.

Lurker: The SAT is regarded by most (and reported by College Board) as an aptitude test. The ACT is formulated to return a score of how much knowledge a student has gained from high school classes. I don't see how a family's wealth would skew the results of that test unless — gasp — the kids from wealthier families actually learn more in high school.

Was: Accumulated opportunity. Exactly. Some of it a sharply motivated, poor parent can do, assuming they themselves have been brought up in a home with opportunities. If the parents themselves come from bereft households, the multi-generational beat will most likely continue for yet another generation, ad nauseum.

Hooper: This is not breaking news. Yet, we place so much emphasis on SAT/ACT scores as measuring future success of students or past success of schools/systems. Maybe we are checking the wrong barometer.

Former: While not poverty-stricken, my family was "economically challenged," t0 use my mother's phrase. My father died when I was 10, and we had a difficult time after that. We had our war orphan's allotment, and all of us did odd jobs as soon as we were old enough. My mother graduated from high school at 16 and had no further formal education. But she stressed education to all of us. "Get an education, or you will never better yourself" was her mantra. I worked hard, got good grades, scored well on both the ACT and the SAT, and got scholarships to college because I qualified for them academically. We do need to improve educational services in poor areas, but that will never work without an improvement in attitude toward education. Money helps some, but no amount of money will cure indifference.

David: There's no doubt that having intelligent parents who take (or make) time to provide stimulating activities for their children is a big help. And, yet, there are children from those types of families who score very low on standardized tests, and many children from deprived backgrounds who score very high. Environment certainly can play a part, but so does innate natural ability and intelligence — nurture and nature.