Thursday, February 27, 2014

Are SATs Necessary? The List of SAT-Optional Schools

New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert took the SAT recently, in response to a new book by a mom, Debbie Stier, who decided to try to get a perfect score on the test after seeing her high school age son struggle. Stier's story was much written about on the Internet, and now we can read more about it in "The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT." 

It's always fascinating when smart adults put themselves in kids' shoes, when someone without a corporate ax to grind takes a cold, hard look at these tests - and issues critical opinions that I am inclined to value. What exactly do the tests measure? Are they the predictors of success that they are supposed to be? How and why have they taken hold in the ways they have? 

It's worthwhile to ask these questions, to understand that the tests are not great predictors of academic success, and to critique the industry that has arisen around them, including the financial interests of the College Board itself, which administers the tests.

Still, as flawed as the tests are, they are not going away. What's a high school student to do if he or she is not a great tester? You can do all the tutoring and test prep your family's budget can afford and/or you can take a serious look at this list of schools for which the tests are optional. An organization called FAIR TEST publishes a list of such schools every year, which you can see here. Do not make final decisions based on the list, since schools may change their policies from year to year. Consult each school's website individually. Sarah Lawrence recently went from test-optional to test-required. Some of the schools on the list are Bard, Bennington, Bowdoin, and Clark University

In the meantime, take a look at Elizabeth Kolbert's fascinating article about The Day She Took the Test. (I must say, I'm disappointed she didn't include her score! Maybe in a follow-up!) Here are a few highlights:
"Many of the questions were tricky; some were genuinely hard. But, even at its most challenging, the exercise [the writing component] struck me as superficial. Critical thinking was never called for, let alone curiosity or imagination. Ironically—or was it defensively?—this was most apparent to me while I was blathering on about the Manhattan Project. A study by an instructor at M.I.T. has shown that success on the SAT essay is closely correlated with length: the more words pile up, the higher the score. When, at Advantage Testing, Stier is shown essays that have received top marks, she is horrified. They are, she writes, “terrible.”
"Whatever is at the center of the SAT—call it aptitude or assessment or assiduousness or ambition—the exam at this point represents an accident. It was conceived for one purpose, adapted for another, and somewhere along the line it acquired a hold on American life that nobody ever intended. It’s not just high-school seniors who are in its thrall; colleges are, too. How do you know how good a school is? Well, by the SAT scores of the students it accepts. (A couple of years ago, the dean of admissions at Claremont McKenna College was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had inflated students’ scores to boost the school’s ranking.) As befits an exam named for itself, the SAT measures those skills—and really only those skills—necessary for the SATs." READ MORE 

No comments:

Post a Comment