- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I remember my SAT score. Most people probably remember their scores or at least whether they were satisfied with their performance. Taking the SAT is a rite of passage for millions of high school students throughout the country and an opportunity for prospective college freshmen to showcase what they have learned and absorbed over the years.

But the test is under attack by activists pushing colleges and universities to adopt a “test-optional” policy, which lets students decide whether to submit their test results in the admissions process, and instead rely on high school transcripts, essays and other subjective factors to determine the likelihood of a student to succeed in college. Some fringe activists who push the test-optional approach denigrate the exams, claiming they are biased against minority groups, a false assertion that has been debunked thoroughly and is not accepted by mainstream educators and psychologists.

The latest attack is a new book titled “SAT Wars,” a compilation of tread-worn rants about perceived problems with the SAT. The essays in this book often contradict one another, but one theme that emerges is that many of the essay authors seem to be more upset with how colleges and universities use the test than with the test itself.

Test-optional activists are trying to establish a no-win situation for the SAT, making groundless excuses for students who do not do well on the exams while accusing students who perform well of “playing the game” rather than acknowledging that some students apply themselves more than others. Studying for any exam and doing well are key components of succeeding not just in high school but in college as well, and the ability to prepare for and master an exam is a skill worth quantifying. Even the wild notion that students can increase their score by 100 or 200 points through coaching is exaggerated, as some “SAT Wars” contributors themselves acknowledge.

But these activists are missing the point. Standardized tests play an important role in assessing student knowledge on a level playing field because they are the sole uniform indicator of academic mastery across the millions of students who apply to college each year. Standardized tests enable admissions officers to better determine what applicants understand rather than relying solely on grades, which easily can be inflated, or subjective recommendations. As one contributor to “SAT Wars” acknowledges, if the SAT were abolished, “we would still need some kind of assessment of the memory and analytical abilities the test assesses.” In other words, colleges need standardized testing.

As for complaints from activists about an overreliance by colleges on the SAT, the issue, if true, should be brought to the attention of a school’s administrators. If schools are suspected of using tests to justify fewer opportunities for minorities or at the cost of diversity, that’s a significant concern. But that doesn’t mean the test isn’t valuable. In fact, many schools that are test-optional still require tests to determine course placement, scholarships, academic assistance and out-of-state admission.

Evaluating standardized testing in an admissions environment is not a yes-or-no proposition. It is a question of degree and how the test scores are weighed among the various factors admissions officers have at their fingertips. Yet activists continue to pressure schools to eliminate SAT scores in their evaluations, to the detriment of many students who use the scores to highlight their knowledge and understanding amid a sea of good grades and strong recommendations.

“SAT Wars” raises legitimate questions about how standardized tests are used at colleges and universities throughout the country, and the truth is that no college in America bases admission decisions solely on SAT scores. But eliminating the scores disenfranchises a different group of students, most significantly those who overcome socioeconomic challenges and excel academically. Advocates and educators should spend their energy finding that right balance rather than demonizing a key evaluator of what a student has learned.

Ken Blackwell is author, with Ken Klukowski, of “The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency” (Lyons Press, 2010) and a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration and the Family Research Council.

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