- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008


Dan K. Thomasson’s misguided diatribe against the SATs is yet another harmful effort to eliminate objective criteria from college admissions decisions (“SATs can’t test rigor,” Commentary, Wednesday).

The SATs were developed in order to introduce more objectivity into the college admissions process, which had a tendency to overlook promising students from schools that were not traditional “feeder schools” for prestigious universities.

Grades and recommendations alone were not considered sufficient because teachers tended to overrate their own students. Thus, SATs inserted an extra measure of fairness into the process.

The SATs are designed to measure verbal and analytical aptitude. They are not “a test alleged to measure what a student learned in high school … .” While having some degree of familiarity with the test helps to produce better results, the existence of a cottage industry of test-taking experts doesn’t “prove” that “[k]nowing how to take these exams is half the battle.” Such blanket acceptance of the test advisory industry’s most expansive claims reveals an embarrassing degree of gullibility.

While it is true that “an applicant’s family wealth” has been found to be a large factor in how well one does on the SATs, family wealth also correlates strongly with the degree of analytical ability of the parents, which suggests that heredity plays an important role. A wealthy family’s “financial ability to provide access to broadening experiences outside of school” is hardly likely to affect a student’s test score.

The argument that an “environmentally oppressed” student was able to overcome his or her adverse situation enough to achieve high grades in high school, yet not enough to achieve a good SAT result is unconvincing. And students who are “spooked by the exam” would seem to lack the “mental toughness” that Mr. Thomasson believes should be a major criterion in the admissions decision.

Fortunately, not all is lost. Because outstanding grades and glowing recommendations still play an important part in the admissions decision, the educational aspirations of those with disappointing SAT scores will not be dashed; they will simply have to settle for a somewhat lesser, though very good, alternative choice where they will have a chance to prove themselves.

Today’s increasingly competitive economy requires that we make every effort to send our most talented students to our best universities. Rather than eliminate the only objective standard we have, the SAT, we should work to improve our public education system. Choosing students on the basis of “human desire and mental toughness” just doesn’t make the grade.





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