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Daily News from New York, New York • 221

Daily Newsi
New York, New York
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The Op-Ed Page The assault on merit JOHN LEO A GOOD GRADE point average won't get you into the nursing program at Cuesta College, a community college in California. No, requiring good marks is an "artificial barrier" to nursing progress, according to the state's community college chancellor, so admission to the program is now by lottery. A working woman named Judy Downing didn't make the program, though she studied hard at night school and got enough blacks and Latinos do well on them. As one College Board official said, this is like wanting to break the thermometer because you don't like the weather. A ton of data tells us that the tests are just reporting the truth that depressingly large numbers of non-Asian minority group members arrive at college too poorly prepared to do well.

When used as they are now (on a weighted basis with grades and other criteria), "the scores are the most reliable known predictor of academic success," as legal writer Stuart Taylor Jr. recently wrote in a long analysis of the SAT issue. Defenders of preferences now attempt to discount tests and grades by arguing that affirmative-action students do just about as well as better-qualified students. Well, not exactly. The study by educational researcher Linda Wightman carried the telltale title "The Threat to Diversity in Legal Education" and muffled the negative evidence it found: 21.9 of black law students entering schools in 1990-91 failed to get a degree, compared with 9.7 of whites.

Far from showing that blacks admitted under affirmative action did "just as well" as blacks with strong credentials, Wightman found that the blacks admitted under racial preferences were about three times more likely to drop out. And the affirmative-action group had a shockingly high attrition rate 43.2 either didn't finish law school or finished but didn't pass the bar. The "just as well" school of reporting reflects desire more than fact People who defend preferences want what nearly all Americans want, a country in which no group is left behind. But they have fallen into a no-win strategy by fudging evidence and attacking all academic qualifications to cloak what is really happening. That attack, Stuart Taylor says bluntly, will descend on "every objective measure of cognitive capacity or academic achievement that has ever been devised, or ever will be, until more black and Latino children get decent educations in their straight A's in the required courses.

But some candidates with averages won the lottery and got in. This is just one sign of the gathering assault on good grades, test scores and nearly all known indicators of merit and academic achievement Some of this is coming from a philosophy of radical egalitarian-ism (people must be treated as equal in all matters, regardless of talent or competence). But most of it has been drummed up to protect the excesses of an affirmative-action movement in deep trouble with the courts and the American people. Some examples: Lani Guinier has called for a lottery to determine admission to colleges, after minimal qualifications have been met by applicants. The president of the American Bar Association started a pilot project to de-emphasize the Law School Admission Test.

A few colleges are abandoning use of the SATs, and the Clinton Department of Education is investigating whether the University of California is violating anti-discrimination laws by using test scores for graduate school admissions. Colleges can no longer get around the Supreme Court's Bakke decision by pretending that race is just one factor in diversity admissions. We now know too much about how those admissions really work, and the courts have upheld Proposition 209 in California and the Hopwood decision in Texas, a reverse-discrimination suit So an effort is under way to circumvent or discredit all objective criteria for admissions. The SATs in particular are under heavy attack because they consistently show 200 to 230-point gaps between test scores of whites and blacks. The argument here is that the tests can't be any good because not Sad, but probably true.

I remember Sabrina early years. could be an unruly ball of energy. Bouncing around the room, she would bump into other kids, laughing and screaming with joy. Often, she had to sit alone at a table in the corner to calm herself down. But all of us remember that she had a natural goodness she always wanted to do something for you.

From the time she was only 2 or 3, she had an instinct to comfort At her mother Sylvia's funeral in 1991, she was the comforter of adults, soothing the tears of her grandmother, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters. She even sought to comfort me, too. Ifl had a worried look on my face, she would come running up to see what was wrong. She would reach out and touch my face, imploring me with those soft eyes. I taught her older brothers Terence and Rodney.

In fact I knew them better than Sabrina as they struggled with their fears and rages at the injustices in theiryoung lives. Having lived through their mother's drug addiction and death, they craved happiness for theiryoung sister. On his way up to my class, Terence always stopped by the kindergarten to check on little Sabrina, pat her on the head and make her giggle. She had so much trust in other people. The fact that we couldn't live up to that trust makes our grief all the greater.

Baram is a Daily News reporter. a By MARCUS BARAM I WAS AT SABRINA Green's funeral yesterday, and I was most moved by her second-grade teacher's eulogy. To have one of your students live in such pain and suffering, Karen Murumba told those of us assembled in Bethune Baptish Church, is the greatest sorrow for any teacher. I know exactly how Murumba feels, because I knew Sabrina, too. And now, in the wake of her terrible death, I feel outraged that all of us who knew and loved Sabrina could not save her.

That I could have been sipping a cup of coffee or reading a magazine in my apartment while she was being burned with cigarets at her sister's place is maddening to me. It makes me want to reach back into the past, to have somehow known the horror she was living through and to have pulled her free to safety. Sabrina went to the Children's Storefront School in Harlem, where I taught for more than three years. She was still in kindergarten then, and I used to stop by her classroom on the way to my science class. What I remember most was the twinkle in her eye and her smile a huge grin thatexposed all herteeth.

They used to call her Pie-Face because her face was so round. Born with drugs in her system and affected by attention-deficit disorder, she mention VNflall Street to a him hatel.

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