We are constantly told that we’re wonderful people with the potential to make the world a better place. Every single one of us has something that elevates us above our peers, a special skill that will help our community and colleges claim they will help us hone. But there’s one thing I don’t understand: If a college’s goal is to help us figure out what we want to do in life, why is one of its main standards of measure a test that simply evaluates us on how well we can take a test?
The first school aptitude test was a psychological experiment administered way back in 1901. In that year, fewer than half of Palo Alto High School’s population took the test. But in the years since then, the SAT is taken by around 1.75 million students due to the inflation of scores. Because applying to college for students now is an extremely competitive process, students are all under major pressure to outperform our peers. Even the PSAT, which should be implemented to show how well we will do on the SAT, has created vicious competition over time for the coveted merit scholarship.
Palo Alto furthers that pressure by setting a high standard: an average SAT score of 1922 for Palo Alto High and 1955 for Gunn in 2012. Here in Palo Alto, as long as the desirable colleges continue to place emphasis on a standardized test, students will go through the four hours of timed, and possibly years of, long-term pressure. The consequences? Let’s just say it’s not surprising that people like Sam Eshaghoff, a student in New York who excels at taking SAT exams, has told newspapers like Huffington Post his cheating escapades. Many other methods of cheating include deliberate schemes to submit one’s social security number off by one digit to consulting test answers in bathrooms during breaks.
However, the sad truth is, colleges place so much emphasis on a test that doesn’t necessarily represent our viability after high school. This is shown through The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness,” which reveals that only 43 percent of SAT takers in the Class of 2012 graduated from high school with the level of academic preparedness associated with a high likelihood of college success.
I’ve always thought SAT should stand for Sickening and Abominable Torture. Sure, one in favor of the SAT would say that it measures standard intelligence and is necessary as a way for students to demonstrate their readiness for college coursework, but since when do eighth grade level math and a whole load of 19th century literary passages reveal anything? Even Gavin Witteje, a tutor who has worked at Best SAT Review in San Jose for over ten years, agrees with me.
“It tests your test-taking abilities, which can be natural abilities…But there’s an unfair edge that kids can get from taking prep courses,” Witteje says. “If you’ve got that edge and if your parents have got that eagerness for you to learn, and if you put forth the money to pay for those resources, than also it teaches foundational skills. The best indicator of someone’s success in college and someone’s likelihood to succeed afterwards is their passion and drive.”
To add to the ever-growing list of things that are wrong with the SAT, it’s biased because people who can afford SAT tutoring have an unbalanced edge. This bias has been noted through statistics: a strong correlation between family income and scores, with higher incomes yielding higher test scores.
This isn’t surprising at all, as a family with a higher income can afford more resource-rich educational environments, and of course, expensive, specialized SAT tutoring. Any one of these prep courses is guided learning and there’s a structure in the learning that makes the acquisition of the necessary skills a lot more efficient and easy. Most importantly of all, it teaches people the CollegeBoard’s patterns in question structure the best techniques to approach it. In fact, based on the students that go to the SAT centers I prepare at, I ultimately think the SAT boils down to this: Parents can buy their kids a high SAT score.
I know that there are a billion different articles on how much people hate the SAT. But as times change, so do the opinions of the dissenters and the dissented. If I were talking about this two years ago, the SAT would have still remained the Sickening Abominable Torture that was largely immovable. Alternatives like the ACT were coming up, but none of them were nearly as popular as the SAT, which colleges continued to see as the big factor in their standard of measure.
But it’s 2013, and surprisingly, many colleges are starting to feel the same way I do about these tests. The list of test-optional schools (found at FairTest.com) is growing every year, with more than 800 colleges not requiring the SAT in 2012, including all of the schools in the University of California system. The number of test-optional institutions has been growing due to the so-called “incompetence,” as stated by Fairtest board members, of the SAT.
“We expect the ACT/SAT optional list to continue growing as more institutions recognize that the tests remain biased, coachable, educationally damaging and irrelevant to sound admissions practices,” says Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest in a recent interview with Huffington Post.
Meanwhile, the ACT provides a more curriculum-linked experience. Originally acting as an alternative to the SAT in 1959, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing has noted an increasing number of ACT takers. For the first time ever in 2013, the ACT with 1,666,017 test takers was more popular among test takers than the SAT, with 1,664,479 test takers—by a narrow margin of less than 2,000 test-takers. According to Inside Higher Ed, increased competition with the ACT led the SAT to redesign its format.
In a letter sent to College Board members, David Coleman, the board’s new president, said: “We will develop an assessment that mirrors the work that students will do in college so that they will practice the work they need to do to complete college. An improved SAT will strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills that evidence shows are most important to prepare students for the rigors of college and career.”
It’s understandable that colleges need a nationwide standardized measure, and that if it weren’t the SAT, it would be another flawed system centered on efficiency. However, colleges go through the trouble to measure the rigor of a student’s classes within their district, to see if a student has pushed his or herself to the highest point of their academic capability. They look at a student’s extracurricular activities in order to ensure that they have influenced the community around them. They even ask students to write an essay that pertains to their personal philosophy or sense of identity.
Through this process, colleges capture factors that contribute to success in the future: personality, motivation and discipline. With so much detailed speculation behind the application to put everyone on a level playing field, the SAT shouldn’t have so much emphasis placed on it because it doesn’t even fulfill its purpose of predicting one’s viability after high school.
Although the ever-growing popularity of SAT alternatives will hopefully lead to a much more curriculum and knowledge-oriented SAT, neither will ever be a perfect standard of measure. Because it doesn’t and probably will never represent our capability to succeed, no matter how many major changes the SAT is going through, any standardized test, whether it be the Sickening and Abominable Torture or the Atrocious and Callous Torment, should not play a major part in college admissions. The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.