Opinion

The SAT continues to show flaws as an accurate prognosticator of college success

Since 1926, the College Board has been branding high school students with test scores that can significantly alter their path to college. The College Board's standardized exams, tainted with bias, claim to be able to determine a student's success in college merely after 4 hours of testing. The dreaded SAT has become more heavily weighted on the college application, which has resulted in many more fretful teenage lives. Four years of rigorous courses, great grades, community service and involvement, and determination can easily be overlooked in the admissions office because of a not-so-great SAT score.

To those students lacking work ethic but who flourish in a testing environment, the SAT is an answer to their prayers. But the SAT and its proven prejudiced nature is not efficient in determining academic success, nor does it promote a higher level of learning.

Studies show that, on average, a white, wealthy male will score higher than any other cultural or economic group. Test score data from California shows that test-takers with family incomes of less than $20,000 a year have a mean score or 1310, while those with family incomes of more than $20,000 have a mean score of 1715.

This is partially because the wealthier can afford effective tutoring, such as a SATuration study weekend for $275, an online Kaplan course for $600, or even a private tutor with the Princeton Review starting at $2,760. The tutoring industry brings in about $2.5 billion a year. Some tutoring services guarantee a 300 point increase, but some studies show that scores increase only by about 30 points on average. However, to a college-bound student, every point is essential. But what can the poorer students do who don't have $300 to spare to buy a higher test score?

Many call the SAT a "white preference test," even the Harvard Educational Review and the Princeton Review. In one analogy question on a past SAT, test-takers were asked to determine the relationship between "runner" and "marathon." The answer to this question was "oarsman and regatta." Clearly, this question shows cultural bias. To get the right answer, the student had to be familiar with crew, which is a sport common among the white and wealthy. Although the cultural gap isn't glaring, some students may be denied acceptance into a college because of the slight prejudice of the SAT.

Sure, the results could be reflecting a biased community, not a biased test. However, the College Board itself acknowledged prejudice in the 1980s with the "Strivers" scoring. The organization awarded those who scored 200 points higher than their gender, race, and income level with a "Striver" status. This label made it possible for students to be accepted into prestigious colleges with ease if they broke racial barriers the College Board itself had established. The "Strivers" program leaked into public knowledge and was thereby eliminated in 1993.

Despite these flaws, the most important question is whether the SAT truly determines academic ability. Originally, the acronym stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, but it was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test in the '90s because of the implication that it actually determined intelligence.

Now, SAT is an empty acronym. Is the College Board listening to the opposition and realizing that its precious creation doesn't fulfill its purpose?

According to a study by Ford and Campos of Educational Testing Service (ETS), the SAT predicts a college freshman's GPA with only an 8-15 percent accuracy. This incredibly low rate should serve as a wake-up call to colleges that weigh the test more heavily than any other aspect of a student's application. Experts report that when taken into account with high school GPA, class rigor, etc., the SAT can marginally aid in prediction of success in a higher education. But denying a bright, hard-working student admission solely because of a low test score is actually hurting the university itself.

In a study in 1972, ETS psychologist Jonathan R. Warre asked college professors what students need to succeed in the future. He found that "motivation was the quality most frequently cited by over 3,400 college teachers." The teachers reported that their best students had "academic commitment and interest" more often than "intellectual ability."

Clearly, a test like the SAT cannot measure a student's motivation, which is an essential aspect of success. Instead, high school class schedule, GPA, college application essays and teacher recommendations can better predict academic determination and motivation.

Luckily, those students who do not flourish in a testing environment are getting an answer to their prayers, too. At least 850 colleges in the U.S. are now test-optional. Students can decide on their own whether or not they want to add their SAT scores to their application to these universities. Some of the most prestigious colleges on the list include the University of Texas, Wake Forest University and Middlebury College. FairTest reports that 35 of the top 100 liberal arts colleges do not require test scores.

Top institutions have finally begun to recognize that a number cannot predict a student's ability. The solution to this problem is already on its way. The focus should be less on what a student can do in four hours and more on what he or she did in four years. The SAT not only favors the wealthy and the white, and poorly determines academic success, but it also forces students to spend hours preparing how to write essays without panache, regurgitate obscure vocabulary, and work math problems only up to a certain difficulty. While many students are reviewing test-taking strategies, those who will grow intellectually are analyzing literature and studying chemistry.

As I wait for my SAT scores to arrive, I grow angrier and angrier at the College Board. How could they create such a monstrous test that takes our focus off of the academics we are interested in? Why do they make the test so significant that countless students resort to cheating?

Let's keep the test for those geniuses who need to prove their intellectual ability after four years of lackadaisical schoolwork. But American colleges need to continue to realize the test's flaws and lower it on the list of importance. What a student does in four years clearly shows his or her ability more effectively than a four-hour, tedious test.

Joana Leger, a Brookstone junior and editor of the school newspaper, is awaiting word on her SAT scores as well as from Leadership Unplugged, a CNN-sponsored summer program that incorporates journalism and leadership skills.

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