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The SAT was first known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and was later changed to Scholastic Assessment Test. It was first put into use in 1926 as a way to gauge which students were ready for college. In its early form, it consisted of about 300 questions, with students having a time slot of 90 minutes to complete it. Over the years, the SAT underwent many revisions before it evolved into its present form of three sections—Critical Reading, Mathematics, Writing—scored at a maximum of 800 points and requiring about three hours to complete.
In its beginning, the SAT was simply an indicator of those students likely to go to college. Today, it is a requirement for nearly every college in America. Not only are standardized tests like the SAT and ACT given to college age students, but standardized, state-issued tests are now commonly given at the end of every school year starting in the elementary school. However, there is much controversy over the relevance of standardized tests. Among the main concerns are: that the tests focus mainly on the knowledge level, rather than on whether a person is well-read, informed, and possessed of real life skills; that many teachers end up “teaching the test”, which detracts from the fluidity and spontaneity of teaching; and that standardized tests such as the ACT or SAT cater to students of higher socio-economic standing.
Firstly, it is often debated whether or not the SAT really measures how well-educated a student is, as quite often people with high a IQ will do poorly on standardized tests, and those with a lower IQ may pass with flying colors. In Jonathan Pollard’s article “Measuring What Matters Least” he states: “In the words of Alfie Kohn, the educational discourse in our nation has been limited to the following statement: ‘Test scores are too low. Make them go up.’ Are we measuring intelligence and practical ability, or are we simply measuring test-taking ability? Standardized tests are, most typically, extensive exercises in short-term memory.” Two SAT test creators, Frey and Detterman, found through their research that high SAT scores went hand in hand with general mental ability, rather than reasoning ability. It has long been noticed that students who do well on the SAT tend to have a more superficial approach to problem solving than those who possessed higher levels of critical thinking. With such broad divisions such as Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing, how can such a test claim to predict whether a student is familiar with literature, or whether the student possesses sound logic?
The second argument against the SAT is that it puts undue amounts of stress on the teacher. As of late, if SAT scores are low in a particular classroom, it is the fault of the teacher. While this may be true, the damage comes
when teachers begin to base their teaching on what is going to be on the SAT. The class then becomes mainly about preparation for a test rather than learning the material on the test. Rote memorization, while important for specific areas of life, is not an indicator of how successful a student will be in the real world. One must not only be able to recall information, but also be able to apply it to a real life situation. The application level of learning is
sorely lacking in our education philosophy today and completely absent from the standardized tests on which we base our ratings of a student. Jay Matthews,writer for The Washington Post, says: “Many colleges… know that the SAT and the ACT are designed to do nothing more than predict first-year college grades. They also know that high school grade-point averages do that job about as well. So they are admitting students without any SAT or ACT scores at all.”
A third concern with the SAT test is that it is aimed toward middle class, Caucasian Americans and does not take diversity into consideration. Many questions on the SAT are geared around very specific aspects of American culture that put other ethnicities at a disadvantage. For Negro and Hispanic students, the failure rate is twice as high as for Caucasian students. Another bias seen within standardized testing is that of gender specific expectations. It is expected that females will do better on the English sections while males will excel in Mathematics. Because of known biases in the SAT test, many instructors spend a great deal of time teaching students strategies for taking the SAT, rather than teaching the material itself. When this is the case, again—what is SAT really evaluating?
Are standardized tests on their way out in the near future? Probably not, and there are myriad reasons for its continued use. However, many colleges are beginning to put less emphasis on minimum required SAT scores for enrollment. I hope that this trend will continue to grow and be more accepted in the coming years as educational philosophies change with our rapidly changing world. It is more important to teach problem solving than it is to teach test-taking.