Test Patterns

Test Patterns

Test Patterns

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 1 1999 6:54 AM

Test Patterns

The New York Times leads with the FBI's announcement last night that its director, Louis Freeh, supports an outside investigation into the FBI's failure to disclose the use of incendiary devices at Waco, a development nobody else fronts. The Los Angeles Times leads with what it claims is alarm among "education advocates" (as opposed to the rest of us?) about continuing SAT disparities between whites and nonwhites in the latest board score data, released Tuesday. The Washington Post leads local (the Virginia governor's highway and rail expansion plans) and off-leads semi-local, comparing local SATs to national trends. USA Today puts the SAT info, including a discussion of the new "striver" scoring system written up in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, in its top-of-the-page "talker" position, and leads with Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers' announcement that in light of the Russian banking scandal, the United States would not support further IMF credits for Russia until there has been an adequate accounting of the money already lent there. This, notes the paper, puts the United States at odds with the IMF, whose chief has advocated uninterrupted Russia loans.

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The headline over the LAT's SAT lead cites an "ethnic gap" and refers to the worry that schools are failing to prepare "nonwhites." But the story itself never mentions the SAT performance of Asians, an omission that is stunning given Southern California's demographics and that lends false credibility to the stark picture the paper paints. False, because as a graphic accompanying the story indicates, Asians have the highest math SATs and the second-highest verbal. The WP story makes the same elision, mentioning Asians only once in passing, and never mentioning their scores. The WSJ also mentions Asians only once in passing but does mention their scores.

Also, the stories fail to establish any sense of context that would justify concerns over the differences in scores they report. For instance, the LAT notes that nationally, scores for whites "rose" one point from the year before, while blacks and Mexican Americans were each down four points in math, but there is no discussion of what a standard deviation would be on samples of SAT scores. Since test scores are known by college counselors and admissions officials to often vary dozens and dozens of points from one test-taking to the next by the same student, surely a few points can't be the stuff of crisis. Or if it is, at least the papers need to argue the point. Similarly, the LAT says the national verbal score "remained mired at 505." But wasn't the idea behind the recentering of a few years ago precisely to put the median score as close as possible to 500? The NYT's SAT piece hardly mentions the ethnic angle at all, dwelling much more on differences between boys' and girls' scores, and (in the online version at least), sits under a refreshingly calm headline: "College Board Scores Vary Little From Previous Year's."

The NYT's Waco lead also mentions that a House committee that's starting its own investigation is said to be interested in what role the Army's Delta Force may have played in the operation. It would have been nice if the story had said something about what the law is on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. It's not an absolute firewall anymore, is it?

Once again the papers' ban-Africanism is in evidence. In Johannesburg yesterday, rebel leaders who tried to topple the Congolese government of Laurent Kabila, drawing five countries into a war in the process, signed a cease-fire. Only the WP fronts the story, although it runs it below a piece about a pro-Israel group's offer of support for Hillary Clinton's Senate bid if she'll lobby her husband to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

USAT off-leads yesterday's introduction by Apple of its newest family of computers, called the G4. The WSJ, in its coverage of the uncoverage, says the computer is designed to bolster the company's offerings in high-end publishing and design. USAT breathes harder, noting that company chairman Steve Jobs says the machine's new chip will "toast" that of his main competitor, Intel. On the development, Apple stock rose to a six-year high.

The LAT front reports that while Hollywood is concerned about a downturn in production and the flight of movie business to foreign locations, one part of the California entertainment business is flourishing: porn. Although feature production in Los Angeles County is down 13 percent this year, says the paper, "adult" (used by the LAT without the scare-quotes) movie production is up 25 percent. In July, one out of five local shoots was a porn film, which is how the biz will manage to churn out 10,000 new titles this year. The story quotes an economist's estimate that skinflicks create 10,000 to 20,000 jobs. And the audience keeps, er, growing: A third of porn profits come from overseas distribution. And the Internet now accounts for $1 billion in annual sales.

Given the front-page headlines garnered when the United States bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade back in May, where would you figure to read about yesterday's word from the United States that it was paying $4.5 million to victims of the raid? Did you guess the WP's Page 18?