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Don't Judge Island's Kids On Just SATs

BY Ray Quintanilla

March 27, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN -- We are told not to read much into them -- not to let standardized-test scores become the key to a child's future.

But the reality is our colleges do just that. What's worse, we as parents do it, too.

Puerto Rico's high-school juniors, like many students on the mainland, are taking the new SAT right now. In Puerto Rico, where half of the families live in poverty, there's a promising kid who will mail college applications in a few weeks.

Sadly, the student will receive this polite response from our mainland universities: You're not college material.

How do I know that? Standardized-test scores for Puerto Ricans -- here on the island and in the United States -- tend to be among the lowest of all ethnic groups. Cultural differences, language, inferior public schools and poverty are some of the reasons for it.

Unfortunately, the same thing could be said for most Hispanics taking the test -- and our American Indian teens, too.

Yet our universities, already the finest in the world, continue making it more difficult for students to get accepted.

They like bragging about high admission standards and mailing out large numbers of rejection letters to bolster rankings in national periodicals. Gullible parents just love those magazines, don't they? The U.S. court system hasn't helped either. It has weakened the rules that had allowed many minorities access to a college education.

But if you care the slightest about what this system is doing to children, consider these voices from high-school juniors who took the SAT recently in Puerto Rico:

Ruben: "Spanish is my first language. But I took the test in English because my dream is to attend Georgetown University. I didn't understand hardly any of the test."

Ruben faces a Catch-22 because colleges on the mainland accept SATs only if they're taken in English.

Carla: "I need help. I raised two brothers while going to high school. I did the best I could, but I don't know if it's enough to get me into college. Now I understand colleges in the United States can't legally offer students like me some help. So I'm on my own."

Carla was referring to the weakening of affirmative-action rules that would have allowed her access.

Marco: "If I can't get into college, then I guess I'm joining the Army."

Esteban: "I think colleges don't want Puerto Ricans or other minorities. We are too different."

Sylvia: "I wasn't even told about the SAT in my high school. I heard about it on the radio. So I signed up for the test, and I couldn't do much more than fill in the little circles. I had no idea what they were asking me."

Raquel: "I'm a C student. I probably can't be successful in college in the United States, but I want to try."

Through the years, progressive educators and civil-rights leaders have tried to spark changes in college admissions to provide a fair playing field for everyone. But it seems as if the process has become only more difficult to understand.

This much is clear: Those college rejection letters can be harsh. They make you feel so dumb.

Truth is, with a little support, these struggling students can achieve their goals. We just need to offer them a helping hand.

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