Question: Which of the following sentences characterizes the SAT
(A) It is irrelevant to the original purpose that it was designed to serve.
(B) It is gender- and race-biased.
(C) It is an impediment to true learning and education.
(D) All of the above.
If you had taken an expensive test-preparation course, you might have learned that getting the right answer doesn't depend on what you know as much as knowing how to take the test. Through some combination of "POE" (process of elimination) and other test-taking strategies with clever, easy-to-remember acronyms, you would have deduced that the answer is actually (D) All of the above.
Such a test-preparation course might cost $800 and might promise to raise your score 100 points. You might consider paying an even greater amount, maybe $5,000 or more, for private coaching. In regards to the question above, your private tutor would also teach you savvy test-taking strategies. If she were honest and didn't mind exposing you to the problems of the SAT, even though it might cost her job, she might discuss the following:
(A) The SAT is irrelevant to the original purpose that it was designed to serve.
When the SAT was created in the early 1900s, it aimed to identify talented students from a wide range of backgrounds, regardless of whether they attended a weak or strong secondary school. Thus, college admissions officers would be able to fairly compare students from different schools.
Today, it is clear that the SAT's original goals of fair selection and accurate prediction have not been met. Test preparation has become a $100 million industry that ensures wealthier students a higher chance of success.
When reviewing applications, admissions officers have no way of knowing who has been "coached" and who has not been.
Also contrary to one of its objectives, the SAT is not an accurate predictor of a student's later success. Though some studies show that the SAT can predict how well a high school student will do academically in the first year of college, the SAT cannot predict whether a student will actually finish college or be successful in a future career. High school GPA and class rank are typically better predictors of success in college courses.
Furthermore, according to Harvard professor Christopher Jencks, "No other country uses a test like the SAT I to screen university applicants." Instead, other countries use tests that evaluate what prospective applicants have studied in high school; these tests better resemble university examinations and more accurately predict college grades.
(B) The SAT is gender- and race-biased.
Though females generally earn higher grades throughout both high school and college, they tend to receive lower scores on the SAT than males. Proponents of the SAT argue that this difference is due to the fact that more females take the test than males. But twice as many males as females achieve SAT scores over 700; if the difference were simply due to a larger pool of females, then females should attain the same percentage of high scores as males.
In 1976, Educational Testing Service (ETS) Researcher Carol Dwyer gave evidence for the fact that a test's content can be gender-biased. In the first several years of the SAT, females achieved higher scores than males on the verbal section. ETS determined that the verbal test needed to be balanced more in favor of males and purposely added questions pertaining to subjects to which males are socialized to pay attention (politics, business, sports). After this change, males have consistently done better than females; yet, no effort has been made to re-balance the questions since then.
Furthermore, many psychologists and other researchers have determined that the format of the test (multiple-choice, speed-based, encouraging of risk-taking) is also biased against females, who are socialized to solve problems differently than males.
Not only is the SAT biased by gender, but is also biased by race. A significant amount of research has been done on what is called "the black-white test score gap," by which, in the past year, African American students scored an average of 100 points lower on the math and verbal sections than white students. The reasons for the test-score gap are numerous and interconnected, including different levels among white and black students of parental education level, quality of school systems, treatment and expectation levels from society and the educational system, and socioeconomic status.
Moreover, a type of "self-fulfilling prophecy" and "stereotype threat" can cause black students to perform more poorly on tests when they are expected not to perform well. Stanford psychologists have found this to be the case when they conducted a study comparing academically successful black students to equally successful white students.
(C) The SAT is an impediment to true learning and education.
University of California President Richard Atkinson recounted a story of visiting a private school and finding 12-year-olds drilling for the SAT. In our current educational culture, schools are encouraged to "teach to the test" instead of being concerned solely with knowledge and critical thinking skills. Students should be concentrating on their high school education and experience, not on how to take a standardized test that measures neither their ability, accumulation of knowledge or future success.
Given that (D) "All of the above" is correct, UC President Atkinson's proposal that the UC system eliminate its SAT I requirement is a step in the right direction toward equality in UC admissions. Atkinson's proposal also calls for the development of a new standardized test that would be based more on how well a student has learned the college preparatory subject material in high school. Before such a test is developed, UC admissions officers may evaluate students based on high school grades, SAT II scores and other non-academic talents and experiences as early as 2003. The enactment of such a proposal requires adoption first by the Academic Senate and UC Board of Regents.
While Atkinson's proposal could ensure a more fair UC admissions system, it is far from the end-all solution to inequities in higher education admissions and education in general. The SAT II may have a higher correlation with a student's future performance than the SAT I, but it is also fairly new; a more intense examination of the SAT II tests will undoubtedly open up a new Pandora's Box of biases and problems.
If ETS attempts to come up with a better test, an action which Atkinson's proposal is expected to encourage, the $100 million test-taking industry will follow right behind it with ways for students to crack the new test.
Teachers may follow with new ways of "teaching to the test," encouraging students to memorize facts instead of developing critical thinking skills.
Standardized statewide (or national) testing could also force a standardized curriculum among schools in areas that may be regionally and culturally very different. Who will decide this curriculum, what will be included, what will not be included, and why?
The dilemma of college admissions is only one among many troubles in our educational system. We also must face shortages of qualified teachers; inadequate school facilities, resources and technologies; cultural, racial and institutional biases; and the lack of availability of early childhood development programs.
Atkinson's proposal is a good, bold answer in a slew of such problems, one "A" that can be awarded in the educational policy arena if the Academic Senate and regents go along with it. But a truly good "report card" of equity in education won't be earned with this one high grade alone. When it comes to educational equity and college admissions, we need to keep asking the questions and examining all of the answers, and for this, we don't have the aid of an expensive test prep course to help us do so.