Posted by: Staff | 09.23.2008

Here Come the SAT’s (or, SAT: Easy As 1, 2, 3?)

JAKE KRINGDON ’09

The college colum is quite simply a forum in which I will discuss anything and everything that relates to college. I will share my opinions on the standardized testing requirement, provide tips to keep you from going crazy during the college process, as well as perspectives/stories of Beaver students who have gone through or are currently going through the college process. Every once in a while, I will also highlight an embarassing college story from a Beaver teacher.

Please, feel free to comment on my articles. Also, if you have anything specific that you want me to write about, please feel free to let me know. Enjoy!

As a new school year kicks off, the burden of the college process comes to haunt Beaver students once again. As juniors embark on the college process and seniors near the end of their hell, the chaos that is the SAT begins!

According to the College Board, the SAT serves the purpose of measuring critical thinking skills that are necessary for academic success in college. As the esteemed Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” These words spoken by Einstein apply to the SAT. I am asking you readers to examine whether performance on the SAT is truly an effective indicator of a student’s potential success in college, or do course selection, extracurricular involvement, and grade point average (GPA) provide a better representation of a student and his or her likeliness to succeed in college?

Numerous schools, 24 of which just this year landed a spot on the prestigious US News list of top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges, have abolished the SAT requirement for admission into their institutions. Some of these institutions include such highly selective schools as Hamilton, Bates, Bowdoin, Mount Holyoke, and Holy Cross. There are multiple reasons why select colleges and universities have recently hopped on the band wagon of doing away with the SAT.

One of these reasons is that the amount of time, energy, and money spent preparing for the test could be used in a much more productive manner. On average, students spend up to two hours a week in SAT preparation classes. Ann Bowe McDermott, director of admissions at Holy Cross, recently commented about the SAT, “We were watching the growing hysteria over the new test. People were getting themselves up in a lather about the test, and not about the work day in and day out in the classroom that really prepares you.” In addition to students devoting a significant amount of time preparing for the SAT, parents are shelling out absurd amounts of money to put their children in the highest quality test preparation classes. Advantage Testing of Newton, Massachusetts, while superior in quality, has individual tutoring rates as high as $450.00 an hour. The company recommends at least 30 hours of preparation. At this rate, parents can spend upwards of $12,000.00 on simply preparing their child for the test. Group tutoring programs such as Princeton Review and Summit, while less expensive than individual tutoring programs, can still be costly, ranging from $900.00 to $2,000.00. The outrageous cost of SAT preparation programs discriminates against middle and low income families and puts affluent college bound students at a clear advantage.

FairTest, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing, has conducted multiple studies showing that proper tutoring for the SAT can raise a student’s scores by 100 points or more. My sister, now a freshman in college, saw her scores increase by over 100 points for each of the three sections of the SAT, after having been tutored in test-taking strategies. If students can learn test-taking strategies that improve their scores without academic tutoring; does this perhaps prove that the test does not measure a student’s knowledge, but rather his or her ability to take the test?

In addition to studies proving the positive impact that tutoring has on student’s SAT scores, many recent studies suggest that the SAT discriminates against both women and minorities, including those who identify English as their primary language. These studies show that historically, females do not perform as well as males on the SAT, on average; a 35 to 40 point gap separates the scores between the two genders. Despite the difference between the scores of females and males, it is proven that females receive both superior grades in high school as well as in college. In terms of the SAT being discriminatory against minorities, there has always been a direct correlation between family income and a student’s SAT scores. The majority of public schools with high minority populations are under-funded and therefore, students often receive an inferior education to those students attending primarily white populated suburban schools. Bowdoin college, a highly selective school has found that the diversity and quality of students improved drastically following the school’s decision to go SAT optional more than 25 years ago. Similarly, at Drew University, an SAT optional school, besides a rapid percentage increase in African-American freshman, the school’s overall number of applications reached an astounding 4,500, an increase of 700 from the previous year. Moreover, the university saw grade point averages (GPA) that were as strong as ever.

Robert Weisbuch, the current president of Drew University, noticed a consistent trend when reviewing graduate proposals in his years prior to joining the community of Drew University. He noticed that students with higher GRE (Graduate Record Examination, a standardized test similar to the SAT) scores tended to submit dull proposals, while students with less impressive scores submitted proposals that were far more interesting and intellectually challenging. At Hamilton College, an experiment was conducted over a five-year period. During the five-year period, a testing-optional policy was implemented. While this policy was in place, roughly 40 percent of each entering class at Hamilton chose not to submit SAT scores. Despite many students’ decision to not submit SAT scores, students have done better academically, producing slightly higher grade point averages (GPA).

It is studies like these that truly make me question the validity of the SAT in properly predicting a student’s potential success in college. We are spending far too much valuable time, energy and money preparing for the SAT. Our society has forced students into thinking that the SAT will determine their fate, when after all, isn’t it just a test? How much of an impact can and should a single test have on a student’s fate? Implementing an inequitable test such as the SAT as a requirement for admittance into a college or university creates a barrier for women, minorities, and most importantly, students whose superior grades make them better prepared for the rat race of college life.

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