Thursday, June 9, 2022

What are (swim) tests for?

 Tests serve multiple purposes, they can be to screen, to certify, to incentivize.  In recent years we have seen concern about tests' differential predictive power for different groups of test takers lead to reduced use for screening, e.g. as SAT's have become optional for college admissions, or as the US Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) step 1 is moving to pass/fail grades, to prevent its (over)use in screening medical students for residencies.

Here's a story in the Chronicle of Higher Ed on swimming tests being abandoned at colleges, most recently at Williams.  (It brought back memories of my own freshman swim test at Columbia in 1968... )

Race on Campus: Why Colleges Are Dropping Their Swim Tests by Adrienne Lu 

"Welcome to Race on Campus. At one point or another, about a quarter of American colleges required students to pass a swim test. Today, there are far fewer who do, but a few holdouts remain. One college dropped its requirement this month after examining data showing students of color were far more likely to need a remedial swim class. 


“Students expressed feeling shamed and punished for not knowing how to swim,” wrote D. Clinton Williams in an email to The Chronicle. Williams is director of the college’s Pathways for Inclusive Excellence and chairman of the Diversity Advisory Research Team, which studied the swimming requirement. “One student told her first-year adviser, ‘It’s like they are punishing the city kids.’


"Once common among American colleges, swimming requirements have been dwindling for decades. A 1997 survey by professors at North Carolina State University found only 5 percent of colleges had a swim-test requirement then, down from the 25 percent that once did.


"Concerns about how swim requirements affect students differently are not new. Hobart and William Smith Colleges dropped its requirement in 1994, calling it archaic, difficult to administer, and unfair to students who had no access to pools, according to a Chronicle article at the time. An op-ed in the student newspaper of Washington and Lee University last November argued that the university had “failed to consider racial, economic, and cultural barriers to swimming.”

"Jeff Wiltse, a professor of history at the University of Montana, who has published extensively on the history of swimming pools in the U.S., said Black Americans today are about half as likely to know how to swim as white Americans.


"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is one of the three leading causes of unintentional-injury death among Americans under 29 years old, and from 1999-2019, American Indian or Alaskan Native people died from drowning at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white people, while non-Hispanic Black people died from drowning at 1.5 times the rate."


The Talmud (in a section that's not so easy to read, kiddushin 29a, concerned among other things with a father's obligations to a son) records this opinion: " And some say: A father is also obligated to teach his son to swim. "

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