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Jewish World ReviewOct. 18, 1999/8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Larry Elder

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SAT, R.I.P. -- "THE SECRETS OF THE SAT," a PBS "Frontline" special, aired a few weeks ago. For sixty minutes, with virtually no "experts" offering opposing views, the show attacked the Scholastic Aptitude Test, required by most colleges.

Opponents of the SAT, or those who seek to minimize its weight, made the following arguments:

1) The SAT does not measure intelligence

2) The SAT does not measure knowledge, but rather the ability to take the test

3) Kids from middle- and upper-class families, with the money to take pre-SAT courses, possess an unfair advantage over poorer kids

4) The SAT does not predict academic success, except for the freshman year, and only then in a minor way

5) That because "underrepresented" minorities like Latinos and blacks perform badly, the test unfairly burdens these minoritiesí ability to get into selective schools

6) Blacks and Latinos donít perform well on the SAT because they get intimidated, psyched out -- yet another reason to abandon the test

7)The SAT hinders the creation of a diverse student body, vital to create "diverse leaders" for a "diverse country"

8) That Proposition 209, the California anti-race and -gender preference initiative, can, and apparently should be evaded at all costs

9) That Asians, usually considered minorities, suddenly get lumped with the supposedly advantaged whites as to SAT performance.


Few claim the SAT measures "intelligence," however we define that term. Even a "Frontline" anti-SAT talking head conceded that the test, at least to some degree, predicts academic performance as to the freshman year. Moreover, the SAT people readily concede that grades remain a better predictor of college success. But how to measure the "A" Miss Landers in Texas gave an applicant in her biology class, against the "B+" that Mr. Becker gave another applicant in the same course at his high school in New Jersey? The SAT.

Imagine a college track coach who seeks to recruit runners from high school. Rather than including speed times on the application, the runners simply state the order in which they finished their high school races. Thus, the applicant from the New Jersey high school, for example, tells the college track coach that he finished first in seventeen consecutive races.

Another applicant tells the coach that he finished third in the Nebraska State Final. Whom should the coach pick? Obviously, the track coach does not have a clue without an objective measurement -- a stopwatch. So think of the SAT as an academic stopwatch, however flawed.

As for the advantages possessed by middle- and upper-class people, welcome to Life 101. The benefits of financial security and upward mobility indeed motivate people to work hard and live responsibly. Yes, an SAT pretest may run $500 to $800. But the major SAT prep courses provide scholarships for the disadvantaged. Also, one can go online, for less money, and take an SAT prep course. And, somehow, many poor kids seem to afford Nikes, with money that could go toward SAT preparation.

The "Frontline" special kept out inconvenient facts. Poor Asians, for example, do better on the SAT than do middle-class whites. Black high school students in Barbados, an island nation that experienced slavery, average 1300 on their SATs. PBS recently aired a documentary on the performances of high school blacks and whites in suburban Cleveland. Despite the income equality, black students performed worse than their white colleagues.

Boldly and arrogantly, a Cal Berkeley admissions officer explained his "Alice in Wonderland" admissions policy: "We have no fixed weights in our scoring processes. We have no formulas. We depend upon the trained professional judgment of our readers, so that a ... verbal score of 600 doesnít have a single meaning across our applicant pool. A score of 600 may mean one thing for a student whose first language isnít English, or whose parents didnít complete high school." What?

Suppose your local police chief, when explaining an arrest, said the same thing, "Well, you know we donít necessarily follow the Constitution, or believe in the Bill of Rights. As trained professionals, we rely on the individual expertise of our officers to determine whether, when, and under what circumstances to bust somebody."

At the end of the hour, a simple un-asked question remained. If the SAT reeks of unfairness, privilege, and lack of usefulness, why does virtually every college and university require it? No law mandates its use. But do the "experts" have a substitute? No, unless one is comfortable with, "We have no fixed weights in our scoring processes. We have no formulas. We depend upon the trained professional judgment of our readers ... "

Face it, the anti-SAT folks want the test eliminated. It clutters the goal of the romantic, race- and gender-proportionate, color-coordinated society. Oh, what the heck. How about a lottery?

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©1999, Creators Syndicate