Article of the Day: SAT: Boon or Bane?

A week or two ago I read The SAT and Its Enemies, in the Weekly Standard.  I don’t usually read much from TWS, but since I teach SAT prep, I found it a very interesting article about the history of the SAT, the intense bureaucracy at its test-maker (Educational Testing Service) to scrub the test free of offensive or socially exclusive references, the reasons for colleges to require or not require the SAT, etc. I’m starting to notice it more in my classroom content — the equal mentions of men and women, the diversity of ethnic names, the absence of references to “regattas.”

One thing the article doesn’t consider is the role of the SAT or ACT in helping college admissions parse the inflated GPAs of their various applicants.  Even if it’s an imperfect measure of aptitude or intelligence, aren’t high school grades?  I would think that it would tell an admissions counselor a lot about two students if one presented a 3.8 GPA and an ACT score of 34 and another presented a 3.8 GPA and an ACT score of 28.  Sure, the SAT and ACT test cleverness and you can coach students to take them better (ahem, my job), but ultimately you can’t massage someone’s innate academic and intellectual capabilities to a perfect score.  My former boss at the University of Iowa Honors Program told me that there’s a pretty strong correlation between high ACT scores and success in college, and I would believe him — after all, he’s spent much of his career working with these students.  I do fret when I see students who take their initial test and score in the 50th percentile or lower — I know they can improve, and sometimes by quite a bit (you re-teach them English grammar and geometry formulas, etc.), but it still worries me that they don’t do better after attending presumably strong, suburban, affluent Twin Cities schools.

I guess one thing that worries me about my students, and which is probably reflected in their test scores, is that a lot of them aren’t interested in reading actual books for pleasure.  As a getting-to-know-you activity a week or so ago, I assigned different categories to Starburst candies, but when people picked strawberry (favorite book), more than one couldn’t think of one book that he or she liked.  They don’t read, at least not more than they are assigned.  I chalk it up to bad parenting.  Fair or not, I blame the parents.  And I blame the kids for being so intellectually lazy or uninteresting that they can’t be bothered to find one book out of the millions that have been written that might be a solid use of their time.  When they get to college and have to read hundreds of pages a week, what will they do?

But it’s not appropriate for me to be aghast at my students, so I’ll leave it on the table here.

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