SAT Changes

I have read several articles in the past couple weeks regarding changes and proposed changes to the SAT.  One such article, written by Leon Botstein in the March 24, 2014 issue of TIME Magazine, suggests the test is “part hoax, and part fraud.”  Say what?

Botstein’s initial gripe is that the test is not the best predictor of actual success, in college or beyond.  This hardly seems like a new revelation, and I wonder about its truth.  He points out specifically how the skills necessary to ace the SAT have no real-world application (which could be said of most if not all standardized tests, so again, nothing new).  That may be the case, but I don’t think it automatically follows that people who do well on the SAT don’t go on to do well in life.  In fact, I would suspect that people who do well on the SAT go on to do very well in life, and not just because of the collegiate opportunities it creates.

He also argues that the test fails because it is not a learning experience for the student taking the test.  Uh, so what?

But halfway through the article, the true driving force behind these anti-SAT sentiments is revealed: “the most striking, persistent statistical result from the SAT is the correlation between high income and high SAT scores.  The richer one is, the better one does on the SAT.”  Yeah, he said that.

I’m not suggesting this couldn’t be or is not true.  Botstein infers that wealthy people have access to better resources and more expensive prep courses/tutors.  No doubt this is true.  But how is changing the test going to change this?  And this is only part of his argument.

What he proposes instead is a test that does away with multiple choice and embraces a more fill-in-the-blank format.  Rather than blindly accepting a student’s response and then moving on, the imaginary test of the future is also supposed to somehow teach the SAT tester as they go.  Were this possible, yeah, great, why miss any opportunity to learn?  But I just don’t see how even this is the magical field leveler it is being held out to be.

I know socioeconomics is a sensitive area, but I feel like there are some logical fallacies and causal disconnects in this analysis.  Does the fact that wealthy people statistically do better on the test necessarily mean it is bad?  Do they do better only because they have money?  Is the test purposefully biased in favor of a wealthy outlook on the world?  Or are there other considerations?

Wouldn’t designing a test so that it hurts the wealthy and favors the downtrodden/poor/underprivileged still be a form of prejudice?

And perhaps most significantly, don’t the “haves” always find a way to beat out the “have nots”?  I’m not trying to be overly cynical or negative here.  But okay, let’s say you scrap the test, start from scratch with a completely new design.  Then what?  How many cycles of this new test are administered before the wealthy put their resources to work figuring out any and every advantage they can?  It’s not just money for tutors or practice tests, I don’t think.  It’s an attitude, a support system, a sense of entitlement, and a willingness and energy to succeed, no matter what the rules or specifics or parameters.  The ability and means to succeed is why they are who and where they are.  Does anyone else see that?

What do I propose instead?  I have no idea.  In a perfect world, shouldn’t/wouldn’t pure innate knowledge and intelligence quotient count for more than material means and ability to outsmart the system/outpay the competition?  Yes.  But how else do you predict how someone will succeed in college?  And if wealth allows the privileged to go to better schools and thus receive a better education, does that not render them individuals endowed with a better education, and thus endowed with a higher capacity to succeed at a more challenging institution of higher education?  I’m not saying that’s perfect, or laudable, or even right, but isn’t that the way it is?

Also, isn’t innate intelligence itself a gift?  What about those not innately intelligent?  Do they deserve to go to better schools than both the rich and the intelligent?  And isn’t a level playing field unrealistic?  Don’t there have to be winners and losers?  I’m not saying our current system is perfect, but isn’t that how any functioning system would work?

Okay, okay.  Too many questions.  But these articles just got me thinking.  A lot of people advocate change, but I don’t think even they can fully formulate exactly what that change would look like, nor do they seem capable of seeing how even if that change were feasible, the end result may not always be a net improvement.

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