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Friday, January 21, 2005


The truth behind the SAT: Secrets about the test that stresses teens

No one enjoys the pressure that comes with every SAT test, the fear of dead batteries in your calculator, and the horrid words, "time is up." Yet, year after year test centers acoss the globe are filled with frightened students hoping for a safe score. The SAT reasoning test is less valuable than most stressed-out teens believe, and is unjustly forced upon generations. The SAT has continually been a road block for many college-bound high school seniors. Many parents pay $800 plus for SAT prep courses, home review books, CDs, and even personal tutors.

Signing up for the SAT test alone costs $20 and many students take the test more than once. Driving across the state to the "nearest" test center, paying for review materials, and then receiving your less than satisfactory scores back are all part of a massive headache for not only the teenager, but his parents as well. Many students fear their junior year when they must take the test. The common misconception is, if you fail the test you will not get into a good college. Except the SAT does not determine your future, even though many colleges stubbornly focus on it.

According to PBS Frontline, when the SAT was first administered it stood for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but now the three letters have no meaning. "Aptitude" means the test measures an innate ability, not just knowledge through schooling. According to Wayne Camara, the director of the office of research at the College Board, the design of the test was based on the IQ test, which was used to help give special attention to slow learners. When the SAT first came out, people believed it would measure underlying, biological potential. Camara writes, "The SAT measures developed reasoning. That which students develop outside and inside of school."

If the SAT is just another way to measure students' academic potential, then why is there an uproar to get rid of it in the college admissions process? There has been argument of a racial gap within the SAT. Tim Wise, an essayist, lecturer, and activist said, "the SAT only reinforces the inequity between Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and Whites. Whites and Asians, who are presumed to be good at math early on, will have an edge taking the test." Partially because of these concerns, the SAT has recently been adjusted for 2005 and beyond. The analogy section has been eliminated, but an additional writing section has been added, and scores will be out of 2400 points instead of 1600. Tim Wise believes the additional writing section will penalize students who express idioms, phrases, or word patterns common to Blacks. Testing expert Jay Rosner revealed that on the experimental sections of the test where Blacks do better than Whites by a mere 7%, the questions are never used for future tests.

Who controls the gates to higher education? That would be ETS, makers of the SAT. The questions on the test are too vague and depend on the student's personal background. Snake: python could easily be bird: starling or rat: mouse. Many students struggle to pick the "best" answer — not necessarily the good or even correct one. Tutors teach you how to take the test, they cannot educate you on algebra or U.S. history. Thus, students who struggle in algebra are already at a disadvantage.

While the SAT continues to be adjusted, the number of schools who do not consider SAT scores is increasing. Sarah Lawrence, Mount Holyoke, Dickinson, and Bates have abandoned their reliance upon the SAT. Thyra Briggs, Dean of Admissions at Sarah Lawrence, said, "The process is too stressful for SAT preparation and there is an unfair advantage to wealthy high school students who can afford tutors." If the SAT is supposed to be, according to Anthony Dick from the University of Virginia's newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, "a valuable intelligence-based method of evaluation that is uniform acoss the country," why did ETS change the setup of the test? Why must we pay to succeed?

The SAT is not universal anymore. Some colleges stress its importance, while others neglect it. The SAT is unfair and we must stop forcing it upon everyone who dreams of going to college.

Carlisle Comments is a column that welcomes well-written contributions from town residents on a wide range of topics.

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