SATs: Determinative or Detrimental?

July 31, 2008
By Lee Jasperse, Sonoma, CA

Any person who has been a college-bound student in the latter part of this century has taken the SATs (or, alternately, the ACTs). The SATs first came to prominence in 1967 when the University of California made SAT scores a requirement for undergraduate admissions. As the application pool has grown larger since then, the importance of SATs in undergraduate admissions has increased. While there is an occasional surge of criticism against the test, few colleges have deemed the SAT optional. For example, in 2001, then UC president and psychologist Richard Atkinson delivered a fiery speech attacking the test and positing that the UC system might make the test optional. However, CollegeBoard responded by "upgrading the test" - adding a writing section. However, a recent CollegeBoard report found that there is little difference in the merits of the new and old SATs; however, the UCs remain complacent.

The objective of the SATs is to measure reasoning ability - allegedly to quantify the innate attribute of a logic. (Recently, however, students have begun to study madly for the tests, making it all into one large game. This just makes scores superficial.) But is this something we want? Do we want admissions to be based on genetic superiority? Why not just make a brain scan mandatory for admissions (other than cost)? This Huxleyan concept of reward based on the brain's grey-matter and genetic primeness is eery. It's spurred thoughts of engineering smarter children. In fact, programs like Baby Einstein seem nothing less that a mild form of this programming (as depicted in Brave New World). Having the option to shop for sperm and be artificially inseminated is even worse. But I digress.

Yet at the same time, aren't those genetically superior more likely to accomplish something worthwhile?

Maybe, but SATs discount the attributes of assertiveness, creativity, and the capacity to dream and follow one's dreams. In my experience, those who are most successful aren't usually those who scored 1600's or 2400's on the SATs; they are those who are innovative, who tenaciously pursue their goals, ossifying abstracts into concrete reality.

Clearly, I am of the opinion that the entire admissions process needs to be overhauled. Shouldn't we focus on what someone's done with the cards they've been dealt (to tap into a great cliche) rather than on the cards themselves? Doesn't that tell us more about the character of a person?

The admissions process, particularly with these tests, has become a game - a game in which the genetically 'talented' and wealthy (for they can afford to buy SAT prep guides and such) have the best hands, a game in which those poor and not naturally intelligent inevitably must fold, driving a wedge through the already widening fissure in American society.

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