The SAT has become such an important and memorable test in students' lives that many adults still remember their scores decades after taking it.
But according to Peter Coy in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, that test is holding many American students back:
Designed to ferret out hidden talent, the tests have become, for some students at least, barriers to higher education. Scores are highly correlated with family income; Harvard law professor Lani Guinier calls the SAT a "wealth test." Type "SAT" into Amazon.com, and you'll have to scroll past more than 200 test-prep volumes before you get to one book that's a history or critique of the test. Because the SAT and ACT are now thought of as yardsticks of ability, students who do poorly on them are marked — or mark themselves — as failures. Overreliance on the SAT and ACT threatens to make America's institutions of higher education even more elitist, adding to income inequality and harming U.S. competitiveness. The irony is that these were the very ills the tests were designed to combat.
Today, more than a quarter of all American colleges and universities make reporting standardized test scores such as the SAT or ACT optional. Joseph Soares, professor of sociology at Wake Forest University and editor of "SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions," said this change has increased standards at schools rather than lower them:
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Wake Forest University went test-optional three years ago, and since then we've seen first-year students from the top 10 percent of their high school class jump from 65 percent in 2008 to 83 percent this year. Pell Grant recipients have doubled. Our student body is more racially and socioeconomically diverse than ever before. Library usage is up, and classroom discussions are reportedly livelier than before.
It's just as Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade predicts in SAT Wars: going test-optional increases the social diversity and academic strength of students at private colleges, and being "don't ask, don't tell" at public universities does the same.
On The Daily Circuit, we discuss why the SAT still wields so much power and what college admissions would look like without it.
LEARN MORE ABOUT COLLEGE ADMISSION TESTS:
• SAT Test Called Valid Predictor Of College Success
In what the authors term the largest analysis of its kind in social science, University of Minnesota researchers have found that the widely used SAT test is a valid predictor of success in college. (UniSci)
• Why Does the SAT Endure?
If, as critics claim, the test can be gamed, why are the scores still so meaningful to college admissions officials, and does the SAT put students who can't afford to take prep classes at a disadvantage? (New York Times)
• Why the new SAT scores are meaningless
Even David Coleman, president of the College Board, the organization that owns the SAT, has for some time now been bashing his own test and promising that it is going to be substantially rewritten. (Washington Post)