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In today’s society taking standardized tests is a norm. Students are taking them as early as third grade, and as time passes it seems that these tests are being introduced to the students at an even earlier age. Everything from testing our reading ability to our ability to learn, standardize testing has become widely accepted and expected in our society rarely being questioned today. Most likely the most famous (or infamous) of these tests is the SAT. Taken by high school juniors and seniors nationwide, usually in spring and fall, this test is meant to give colleges and universities a comprehensive look at a student’s knowledge and learning capability to aid in the admissions process. The SAT doesn’t seem to be harmful, especially when hearing the arguments of the makers, and how it’s supposed to be a useful tool for higher education. Yet, the SAT is feared by high school students, and still haunts some adults. The SAT has been known to favor high class families, and to hinder woman and people of color from scoring high. They’ve also affected education in schools by setting up a social standard, and have created a mindset in students of self-selecting, instead of harnessing their potential. Overall the SAT has helped form a society which places greater emphasis on ranking and meeting a standard, than the true understanding of an individual’s knowledge and potential.

The SAT has a longer history than most would realize. The College Board which is the creator of the SAT was formed in 1900 (“History” n.p.). On June 23rd, 1926 the very first SAT, also known as the Student Aptitude Test, was administered. It mostly consisted of multiple-choice questions which were divided into nine different sub-tests: Definitions, Paragraph Reading, Classification, Antonyms, Analogies, Artificial Language, Arithmetic Problems, Number Series, and Logical Inferences. The test was given to 8,040 candidates in 353 different locations and 318 centers. The first SAT was mostly taken by males as they consisted of 60% of the candidates. Out of this 60% about 26% of the males applied to Yale University. Most of the women or about 27% who took the test applied to the Smith College ("The 1926 Scholastic Aptitude Test (the First SAT)" n.p.). After its first administration the SAT came to replace the previously used tests called “College Boards”. (“History” n.p.). The SAT slowly began to pick up speed and in 1944 it was administered to over 300,000 people in a single day due to a contract the College Board had obtained with the Army and the Navy. Today the SAT is administered by the Educational Testing Service which was created by the College Board and began running in 1948 (“A Brief History of the SAT” n.p.).

The SAT wasn’t always so enthusiastically accepted by colleges, though. It wasn’t till after World War II that colleges embraced its concept. Sense the SAT took less time to administer than the essay examinations used beforehand it was perfect for Harvard’s, Yale’s, and Princeton’s wartime plan, allowing students to be notified of admissions earlier. After the war universities and colleges had more applicants than ever, the SAT was adopted because of its convenience and helped select the promising freshman classes (Crouse 25-27).
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Mostly adopted because of its convenience, the SAT has had little question in legitimacy until more recent years. The ETS (Educational Testing Service) which has administered the test since 1948 seems to highly value this mysterious aura it has acquired. It can be further proven by their reaction in 1979 to the “truth-in-testing” law passed by New York State. The law required all the test-makers, including ETS, to release information on the “validity” of their tests, as well as graded answer sheets and test questions. The ETS immediately made phone calls and sent out letter and mailgrams to college presidents, headmasters, and high school principals about how this would result in a disaster for the SAT. They called for urgent action against the “truth-in-testing” law while the bill was still being considered. Over all the ETS spent $620,170 lobbying the truth-in-testing law in three years, even though it had originally called for $450,000 in expenditure. In the end ETS was defeated by their own statistic, and quickly adapted by charging more for the SAT in New York, plus charging students for every request of their own SAT questions and answers report (Owen 21-25). This was highly unnecessary and put into question the ETS and their tests.

Even still the growth of the SAT didn’t stop. In 1983 ETS administered tests to almost six million people, and in 1985 conducted over 35,000 administrations for the test in 10,000 centers. They ended up spending over $2 million on mail and freight for the 245,00 publications and test books alone (Crouse 2). Around this same time people were beginning to criticize standardized tests and the effects they had on the American society. The ETS began to fear loss of popularity and upped to change the name of the SAT, which since its beginning had been known as the Student Aptitude Test (Sacks 226). They ended up taking the Aptitude out and replacing it with the more widely accepted Assessment, officially changing the SAT to the Student Assessment Test in 1993. Today the acronym SAT actually doesn’t stand for anything, and is simply referred to at the SAT I (Owen 193).

It’s highly important for us today to remember how mental tests such as the SAT even began in the United States. Being used as a way to prove the inferiority of immigrants such as Italians, Jews, Poles, and others, mental tests were used to somehow rationale the policies which would now be seen as cruel and misguiding (Sacks 17). So even though the harm which the SAT may cause seems insignificant to the original mental test and only seems to reach past a very uncomfortably stressful day, it still has the power to affect the lives of students nationwide by being required for admissions into colleges. What is the SAT’s validity? Why is it required for admissions into most colleges and universities? Even though the EST claims the SAT is one of the best ways to predict a student’s success in their first year of college many studies have been made on the SATs and it is shown that the SAT scores only truly explain 16 percent of a college freshman’s grades. The student’s high school record by itself is the best predicator for what kind of performance can be expected in the first year of college from a student. Even when the SAT scores are combined with the high school record the prediction power is only moderately increased (Sacks 7). This is only one of the ETS’s falsely made claims. They have also claimed, along with the College Board, that the verbal section of the SAT is a critical thinking test. Yet, the verbal section is made up of seventy-eight multiply choice questions and test takers are only allowed seventy-five minutes for completion. This would only leave less than sixty seconds per question, making it seem as if the tester is being tested for speed instead of ability. Completion rates for the SAT vary per subtest, but are pretty significant when compared to how many students take the SAT (Sacks 212-213).

The SAT also has claimed to be better organized than state tests. It turns out the SAT isn’t any better than the less well calibrated state tests when the reading comprehension sections are compared. Even though they are called differently they are essentially structured the same way (Hirsch 100). This defeats one of the main reasons people support the SAT. Another would be the claim that the SATs help applicangts select colleges to apply to where they will be successful. No real evidence has ever been given by the EST to support this purpose, though. Instead students are made to self-select where they believe they will be successful, and lower standards not wanting to exceed their ability. The ETS greatly encourages the students to use the SAT in this process though it does not hold this ability (Crouse 72-73). On the other side the EST has been pushing for decades that the SAT truly helps colleges make better academic decisions during the admissions process. The EST has been able to rely on scholastic articles and manuals to justify their claim and encourage colleges to take the SAT into consideration when admitting, but no facts have been given. The EST has even stated itself that the best indicator of first year success in college is the student’s high school record. By combining the high school record with the SAT scores through an equation the EST assures a better prediction, but the equation used can vary depending on the institute of higher education, making it inconsistent (Crouse 40-42). The SAT ends up becoming one big redundancy. The fact is the EST’s reasons for the use of the SAT for college and university admittance tell use nothing about the usefulness of the test itself. This is due to the simple fact that predicting a student’s freshman grades is not the admissions process ultimate goal (Crouse 50-51).

So can the SAT be defended? Even though most colleges could ignore the SAT scores many defenders of the test argue that all college-bound students can benefit from taking the SAT by using their scores to match their abilities with a college. This however is causing students to self-select. Defenders also claim that the test helped in creating equal opportunity, they compare the SAT to its obvious alternatives then shoots them down, and also state that replacing it with regular achievement tests would lead to a system unlike the British (Crouse 68-71). But these arguments can also be argued back.

The SAT defenders argue that it has helped create equal opportunity, yet the federal courts found it discriminating against women in many cases, and they’re even able to keep underprivileged kids out of college (Robinson XV). We’ve all been told that tests aren’t perfect, but they’re the best we have for decision making. Is this true? Then why is a father’s occupation a better predictor of SAT scores than any other factor? And have students just been called “overachievers” by their teachers, because their actual performance surpassed what their test scores predicted? (Sacks 2). The public has a very inadequate analysis of the SAT’s usefulness, because of this over a million high school juniors and senior take the SAT sometimes twice or three times. No one takes the SAT for fun though, its three long hours of stress. But society and the students have been made to believe its necessity to apply to one of the 1,500 colleges that require the SAT or highly recommend it (Crouse 4-5). Colleges and Universities then use the test for their need of prestige. Prestige has such an important value in ranking for colleges that sometimes test scores are even manipulated to increase their average (Sacks 15).

This only pressures students more to self-select which causes a lowering of standard. Sense students are concerned with their college success very few apply to colleges where they have a good chance of getting rejected, such as Harvard (Crouse 7). The SAT has high school students thinking that it’s a test of their intelligence. This way of thinking has caused them to feel as if SAT scores are a permanent score of how “smart” or “dumb” they are, which is untrue (Robinson 7). Most people’s feeling about the SAT’s and other standardized tests are not even entirely rational in this way. The test has gained an out of proportion power, which awakens damaging insecurities in many. Low scorers fear the permanence these scores have, and the high scorers fear the scores aren’t permanent enough. Even adults still fear the SAT for when asked to retake it no one was willing (Owen 2-3). This coupled with the inequality of the SAT test makes it very harmful to society.

Evidence from the SAT has shown that a test taker can expect thirty extra test points for every $10,000 their parents make in a year, and one-third of high scorers which made the cut for highly selective colleges were of upper-income families (Sacks 8). This creates an adverse impact on applicants which come from a low-income household. It’s been found that the SAT reduces the acceptance of these applicants to selective colleges’ just as it does with black applicants (Crouse 122). This is mostly due to the fact that verbal SAT scores took a nose dive decades ago that have taken a long process to increase. The SAT still shows that most people of color have a failed reading proficiency level somewhere in the 80%, though (Hirsch 2-3). EST may say that the use of the SAT helps blacks get admitted into college, but this is not supported with facts. Instead if selective colleges require blacks to have equal SAT scores to whites these colleges will have trouble enrolling blacks and whites equally. Even when colleges ignore SAT scores to allow equal admission of blacks and whites this again means the SAT didn’t help in the admissions process (Crouse 117, 121).

So what can be done about the SAT? There are some colleges which have started experimenting by dropping the SAT all together from their admissions process. This can sometimes seem horrifying to some admissions officers because admittance would then need to be decided based on the student’s high school record; however colleges which have dropped the SAT don’t seem to be having much trouble and haven’t lowered academic quality (Crouse 146-147). The anti-testing movement actually began in the 1980s producing books such as The Case Against the SAT by James Crouse and Dale Trusheim. Activists of this time began the National Organization for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest; which was and still is devoted to protecting millions of takers of standardized tests (Sacks 6).

The EST has had its share of criticism over the years and usually responds to these attacks on their monopoly by saying that the SAT only plays a small part in the role of college admissions. However this claim is everything but true. The SAT affects every aspect of the admissions process. It affects a students’ perception of his own ability and potential, and affects a teacher’s perception of a student as well, because that on the SAT has become standard. It affects the advice given by the guidance counselors’ in high schools and it affects the admissions officers’ interpretation of every other factor on a candidate’s application for college (Owen viii). Society has come to accept this as a normal part of life, emphasizing more on reaching standards, not realizing the negative effects of tests such as the SAT. Especially the effects it has on students’ self-worth and a society’s values. Many colleges have already begun removing the SAT as a requirement in their admissions process without harm, and many others have begun thinking of alternatives to the SAT in hopes these negative effects can be removed once and for all.



The SAT: Is Standardizing Helping or Hurting our Society?


Page Author: Angelica Orta

Sunday, 4 March, 2012 18:40



"A Brief History of the SAT." PBS. PBS. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

Crouse, James, and Dale Trusheim. The Case against the Sat. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Print.

Hirsch, E D. The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

"History." College Board. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

Owen, David, and Marilyn Doerr. None of the Above: The Truth Behind the Sats. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999. Print.

Robinson, Adam, and John Katzman. The Sat & Psat: Cracking the System. New York: Villard Books, 1989. Print.
Sacks, Peter. Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It. Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Books, 2000. Print.

"The 1926 Scholastic Aptitude Test (the First SAT)." PBS. PBS. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.


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