The Michigan Daily -Thursday, September 6, 2001- 5A
,Prep courses skew meaning of merit
By LAURA SAHRAMAA meaning that the playing field is about as level as a
of the Cavalier Daily mountain range.
There is no question that commercial test preparation
It may be hard to believe, but it turns out that the edu- courses such as those offered by Kaplan Educational
cation gurus who developed aptitude tests like the SAT, Centers or the Princeton Review make a difference in
LSAT and GRE intended for them to be more than just students' test results. When it comes to the Law School
the bane of every student's existence. Admissions Test, for example,
They wanted the tests to give admis- U. VIRGINIA Kaplan students average a seven-
sions officials at schools across the CH siclrc)TLtM0,tpoint increase in their scores. The
country - even across the globe - E E advantage transfers to admissions too:
the ability to compare students to Kaplan students usually end up
each other in a way they had never been able to do attending the top law schools. Of students at the top 25
before. law schools, three out of four took a Kaplan prep course
Unlike grade point averages and the quality of ("How to Even the Score: Test Prep," Time, April 20,
extracurricular activities, scores on aptitude tests could- 199).
n't be inflated or exaggerated. Ideally scores on these Simply looking at the exorbitant prices of test prepa-
aptitude tests would be a measuring stick of sorts: uni- ration courses makes it obvious that not everyone can
form across situations and a fair, objective way to mea- afford the advantage these courses provide. Prices for
sure students' relative skill. test prep courses provided by Kaplan, one of the largest
Whatever meaning the tests may have had is lost companies in the test preparation industry, hover around
when something that is supposed to facilitate meritocra- the $1,000 mark. At the Kaplan Center in Char-
cy has degenerated into another area of life where the lottesville, a prep course costs $799 for the SAT, $999
privileged can pay to become even more privileged and for the GRE, $1,099 for the LSAT and a whopping
those who have fewer resources are left even further $1,299 for the MCAT.
behind. Steps must be taken to ensure that all interested Varying levels of access to test prep courses may be a
students have access to test prep courses. Whatever the contributing factor to the racial disparity in test scores,
formulators were trying to measure, it is clear that they considering that whites are more likely to take commer-
have not given students a level playing field when it cial courses than blacks.. The California Law Review
comes to succeeding on these tests. The test guru guys recently published a study that found disparities between
failed to take into account certain inherent flaws with blacks and whites when it comes to success on the
the tests that prevent them from being completely objec- LSAT. The study compared black and white applicants
tive. The testmakers certainly couldn't have imagined who attended the same colleges and had similar majors
that an entire industry would spring up to virtually guar- and grade point averages. It was found that minority stu-
antee higher scores to anyone who could pay for them, dents scored significantly lower on LSATs than white
A nation of cellblocks
From the DAILY TEXAN with young people experimenting HOW TO J
with relatively harmless drugs is a
Prisons are invisible. It's how they short-sighted policy to say the least. THE DAIL
work. Convicts are processed and Prohibition is a policy doomed to fail.
hustled out of sight, keeping law- Meanwhile, victims of those whoE T R
abiding citizens safe and sound from rape and murder must wait longer and BOARD? E-
the clutches of depraved criminals. longer for justice because the state is
The prisoners themselves are always too busy punishing petty, victimless ed4p4ge.inf*@0r,
watched, under constant surveillance, crimes.
filmed, categorized and in the view of In Texas, a state renowned for its
authorities. But prisons, especially for disdain of governmental oversight,
people on the outside who don't have nearly 158,000 people under correc-
a loved one behind bars, are largely tions supervision puts us first among
invisible, the nation. Rhetoric about personal
However, according to a new report freedoms and self-reliance rings hol-
from the Justice Department, the odds low when contrasted with the obscene r
are increasing that the teeth of the numbers of people we forcibly detain
criminal justice system are probably every year.
closing in around someone that you Another solution to our prison
know. Prisons, other than those used woes would be to reexamine the cate-
as settings for movies and television gory of felonies in the Texas that have
shows, may still be mostly absent been dubbed "state jail felonies"
from the daily thoughts of the Ameri- crimes that do not fit the standard
can public. But as the prison-industri- First through Third degree felonies,
al complex expande but deemed by pros-
and the criminal jus- U. TEXAS ecutors to be more A
tice machine AUSTIN severe than a Class A
ensnares more and Misdemeanor. Creat-
more people, the invisibility is start- ed by the Texas Legislature in 1993,
ing to wear off. some examples of state jail felonies
If not physically behind bars, more include a third arrest for prostitution,
and more people are at least now possessing under a gram of cocaine * go you wawt
being supervised by the law enforce- or heroin or possessing four or less
ment wing of the government in some ounces of marijuana. The lengths of
fashion. The Justice Department punishment for state jail felonies
recently revealed that 1 in 32 Ameri- range from simple probation up to (
cans are either imprisoned or dealing two years of incarceration in a state " . *
with some form of probation or jail facility.
parole. The 1990s saw a 49-percent Some societies think of prisons as
increase in the numbers of Americans places where criminals can be rehabili-
behind bars. There are over 2 million tated. The United States is not one of
more prisoners at the end of the them, preferring to sink vast sums of
decade than when it started. money into massive new sprawling
The dramatic increase in incarcera- complexes that dot the landscape with
tion rates is rooted in a myriad of barbed wire and chain link. A bloated,
problems: Disingenuous and coward- billion-dollar industry has developed
ly politicians grandstand on "tough to profit from the construction and
on crime" platforms; overzealous maintenance of prisons. Extended
prosecutors and district attorneys parole and probation times ensure that
demand nothing less than the full and the penal system will follow more and
most severe punishment for each more Americans into their own homes,
I crime; teary families of victims give keeping them in prison even after they
faces to economic interests eager to have technically left jail.
ferret out "undesirable" elements of Imprisonment has become a first
society that threaten property values. reaction to any social problem, kind
Our burgeoning prison population has of a knee-jerk response designed to
benefited from selfish and short-sight- get trouble makers out of sight and
ed policies and a group .of individuals out of mind as quickly as possible.
who would rather send people away Cribbing vast numbers of people into
than deal with the tricky, complicated small boxes has become a national
and expensive prospect of preventing pastime. With one in 32 Americans
crime or alleviating poverty. under some form of government
One possible solution to the prob- supervision - a sickeningly dispro-
lem would be to stop prosecuting portionate number of them minorities
low-level drug possession arrests. - it's time that we start looking in a
Clogging the criminal justice system different direction for solutions.
students with similar credentials. The gap was 9.2
points, large considering that the LSAT is only a 180-
There has been talk of possible racial bias in the
LSAT, but looking at what students did to prepare also
could be instructive when searching for a source for the
gap between the races. According to Time, whites more
oftenppt for the expensive prep courses while minori-
ties tend to take weekend crash courses. If fewer blacks
are taking prep courses that, on average, give students'
scores a seven point boost, it is not surprising that there
is a racial disparity.
Some good solutions have been proposed, most
notably giving students scholarships to test prep courses.
Perhaps colleges also could cover the cost of hiring
commercial test prep providers to work with their stu-
dents, in the interest of providing more equal opportuni-
ties. Maybe Kaplan and the Princeton Review would
even have it in them to offer their services at a discount,
considering that their business surely would increase.
By giving everyone access to test-prep help, anyone
willing to do the extra work could take a course,
whether they could afford it on their own or not.
Tests scores are crucial when it comes to graduate
school admissions, and they therefore can have a huge
effect on students' futures. In the case of law school
admissions, students' LSAT scores and GPAs are the
primary factors in admissions decisions, making LSAT
scores essentially half of what gets them in. It is a high-
stakes numbers game, and those with the resources to
get a few extra points will win. Evening out students'
access to test preparation courses will make the game a
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The next step ...
From the INDEPENDENT Congress comes back from its summer
FLORIDA ALLIGATOR recess, it will have to address that issue.
Tommy Thompson, secretary of
Here's the good news. President health and human services, testified in
George W. Bush agreed to allow federal the first of three hearings the Senate has
funding for embryonic stem cell planned. The hearings are to decide if
research early last month. His decision the restrictions on stem cell research
put wind in the sails of a type of med- will encumber the efforts of scientists
ical research that could prove to be trying to discover treatments for illness
instrumental in the next decade or so of and disease.
medical technology. This issue is likely
His decision was not U. FLORIDA to become a hot
without controversy. GA.Nesvmsr.( topic in political cir-
Conservative groups all cles once again, now
across the country blasted his decision, that there is concern that Bush's deci-
standing firm on their rigid moral sion was greatly ceremonial but not
beliefs and allowing them to have a sort ultimately helpful. His message may
of myopic effect on their judgement. have been full of sound and fury, but
But, the bad news may put them at ease. the results may signify nothing.
The bad news is that there is a good Thus, this issue is, unfortunately,
possibility the restrictions Bush put on being taken in the wrong direction
the research may hamper any real again. Politicians will pick their sides
advancements from ever occurring. and fight to the death based on their
Bush decided public financing to work party lines. But, this is not a political
on those stem cell colonies, or lines, issue; this is a responsibility issue.
would only be allowed for those created The people arguing this issue have a
before 9 p.m. on Aug. 9 - the moment responsibility to move federal funding
he announced his decision to the nation to a program that will help save lives.
in a televised speech. Period. Our government has already
Because of that there is a real possi- decided to back stem cell research.
bility that there are not enough lines to Now it must prove it is truly behind the
do any ongoing research. And, when decision.
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