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August 21, 2018

Near universal standardized testing sends more low SES candidates to university

Filed under: Intelligence,Testing — Razib Khan @ 2:08 am

Most readers are probably aware that meritocratic testing for the selection of the ruling administrative class was a feature of the Chinese system for over 2,000 years. This created in China a civilian ruling coterie unified by cultured cultivation of mental rather than physical feats, similar to the Roman nobility which flourished during the first two centuries of the Empire (and persisted as a social and economic force for centuries after 200 AD, though they became progressively marginalized by the professional military class). The true crystallization of the system, which maintained itself down to 1900, occurred during the Song dynasty, around 1000 AD. The full story is told in The Age of Confucian Rule: The Song Transformation of China.

The cultural legacy of this history persists down to the modern day. Standardized testing in modern East Asia is very different in terms of the subject than in the past, but the aim is the same. To select for the best, by merit alone, in societies where inter-personal relationships still loom very large.*

This historical context is why I am somewhat dispirited by the discussion about standardized tests which is dominant among cultural elites in the United States currently. When I pointed out to someone that standardized tests were used in Britain to target lower socioeconomic students who lacked “polish” and “class”, there was a genuine surprise. But even a trivial familiarity with Chinese history and the powerful leveling influence of the examination system would have habituated people to this reality.

In the past, there were methods to select the “best” candidates without examinations in most societies. During much of the Latter Han and Tang dynasty various blood lineages, what in the west would be called nobility, dominated the ruling class. They recommended their own kith and kin. During the Yuan (Mongol) period policies of ethnic divide & rule were utilized. The British Empire was administered by broadly educated gentlemen.

The utilization of more “holistic” criteria will certainly allow for particular sorts of representative apportionment to occur which are seen as a social good, but if humans are the way they have been in the past, those with polish and pedigree will also shine more brightly in a system where human judgement and human endorsement are given more prominence.

To be frank I think this too shall pass. So when the time comes for the dimming light to burn bright once more, here is a paper which I found very interesting from last year, ACT for All: The Effect of Mandatory College Entrance Exams on Postsecondary Attainment and Choice. The abstract:

This paper examines the effects of requiring and paying for all public high school students to take a college entrance exam, a policy adopted by eleven states since 2001. I show that prior to the policy, for every ten poor students who score college-ready on the ACT or SAT, there are an additional five poor students who would score college-ready but who take neither exam. I use a difference-in-differences strategy to estimate the effects of the policy on postsecondary attainment and find small increases in enrollment at four-year institutions. The effects are concentrated among students less likely to take a college entrance exam in the absence of the policy and students in the poorest high schools. The students induced by the policy to enroll persist through college at approximately the same rate as their inframarginal peers. I calculate that the policy is more cost-effective than traditional student aid at boosting postsecondary attainment.

Emperor Taizu would not be surprised at this result, and he died over 1,000 years ago.

The paper is open access, so read it yourself. The “natural experiment” is rather simple, though the author did have to dome some weighting of the before and after samples. The dataset looks pretty big.

* This causes major issues relating to a fixation on the test as the ultimate goal, as opposed to learning. But excessive focus on education is a “good” problem for a society to have.

June 18, 2012

Eugenics by another name

Filed under: Bioethics,Down Syndrome,Personal genomics,Testing — Razib Khan @ 9:03 pm

Evolution’s winner. Real headline.

In the mid-2000s two British biologists of some public note attempted to revive or resuscitate the good name of eugenics, Richard Dawkins and Armand Leroi. My own suspicion is that this emerges in part from a implicit cultural history in the British Isles in regards to eugenics: in those nations,* unlike in the USA or Germany, eugenics was generally conceived of in the positive rather than negative sense. By this, I mean that a disproportionate amount of thought was given to the procreation of the favored, rather than coercive restriction of the unfit. This is exemplified by R. A. Fisher, the co-founder of both evolutionary genetics and statistics, who worried about the high mortality rate of the British elite during World War I. Fisher himself went on to have eight children, a situation which occasionally left him in financial distress, as would be predicted from standard Malthusian assumptions (see R.A. Fisher: The Life of a Scientist).


But despite the best efforts of Dawkins & Leroi, eugenics is still a swear word. For example, a few months ago Chris Mooney was accused of ...

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