Editor’s Note: This op-ed will substitute for the weekly “Ask Dr. Land” column this week.
Last week the University of California system’s trustee board, which provides oversight to some of the USA’s very best colleges (UC Berkeley, UCLA, Caltech, etc.) voted to completely “phase out” using the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) completely in its admission’s process by 2025. Why?
The board said that the SAT was very unfair to ethnic minorities. They made this decision to abandon the SAT in spite of the fact that their own task force found that SAT scores were a better indicator of college success than high school grade point averages and that the standardized tests “actually give a leg up to black, Latino, and low income students”.
This real ambiguity expressed by the University of California system reflects the fact that there is actually not an open and shut case either for or against the SAT. For example, The New York Times op-ed, “Will the Coronavirus Kill College Admissions Tests?” and the Los Angeles Times‘ “Editorial: Despite complaints about bias, the University of California shouldn’t dump the SAT and ACT”.
At this point, in the interest of full transparency, I need to disclose my own somewhat ambivalent relationship with the SAT. The SAT is a flawed barometer of human intelligence. It measures a particular kind of linear, left-brained intelligence, one that is particularly valued by graduate and professional schools that grant MDs, MBAs, and PhDs. However, whenever I acknowledge that fact, I feel like a terrible ingrate because the SAT has been very, very good to me. When in 1964, as the son of a blue collar family in a largely working class and lower middle class high school, I scored an almost perfect score on the “verbal” half of the test, and ranked among the top percentiles over all, and it literally changed the course of my life. My SAT performance enabled me to attend Princeton University on a full academic scholarship. I have no illusions that I would have ever been admitted to Princeton without my SAT scores, despite the fact that I was in the top 3% of my graduating class, graduating summa cum laude and was named “Outstanding Senior Boy.”
When I enrolled at Princeton in September 1965, I was part of the first class in the university’s history to have more “public” than private school students. Freshman year the “preppies” did better academically than we “proles” as we called ourselves (i.e., “proletariat”). They had been better educated in their elite prep schools than we had been, and just as importantly, they were used to being away from home while many of us suffered from excruciating home-sickness, at least until our first Christmas.
We public school boys also had to cope with the psychological adjustment referred to by President Goheen in our first assembly as a class in the first week on campus. The president looked us over and said, “Boys, most of you are used to being the smartest boy in class. Here you are just one of the boys!” (Princeton did not go coed until the year after we graduated in 1969.)
After our freshman year, however, we generally did better academically than our prep school classmates. And, we had to score higher on the SAT in order to get in because our high school academic class standing meant less to the admissions committee than the preppies’ diploma from elite boarding schools did.
Now, having paid due homage to the SAT’s role in my life, I can now reiterate the fact that the SAT is a flawed evaluative tool. The question is how flawed is it, and should it be abandoned unless we have something more useful and objective to replace it?
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Richard D. Land