Get the NewsHour History:
S-A-T. Few things bring more fear into the hearts of students across the country than those three simple letters. To many, a good score can mean the difference between attending a top-ranked college and the University of Nowhere.
For proof that your SAT score alone doesn't measure your future success, try this on for size: A male high school student once took the SAT and scored a 485 out of 800 on his verbal test. Later on, that same student graduated from Princeton with honors, became a Rhodes Scholar and later was elected to the United States Senate. His name? Bill Bradley. Last year he ran for President of the United States.
A growing number of experts believe the SAT has been over-rated. In the past few decades, nearly 300 colleges and universities across the country have dropped SAT scores as an application requirement.
The president of the University of California, Richard Atkinson, recently proposed dropping the original SAT test as a requirement. U. C. is one of the largest public higher education systems in the U.S. and gives out one of every 50 American bachelor degrees every year. Many critics of the test, like Atkinson, are concerned that the test has gone far beyond its original intentions and does more harm than good to the schools and students who use it.
History of the test
The first SAT tests were designed as intelligence tests for Army recruits in World War I. Princeton University professor Carl Brigham later adapted his test for use in college admissions and named it the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
In 1934, Harvard University started using SAT scores to select scholarship recipients. Harvard President James Bryant Conant recommended a new national testing agency be created and after World War II arranged for all testing to merge into one private, non-profit organization, the Educational Testing Services (ETS).
Since then, most schools have adopted the SAT requirement for admissions. Within the last few years, subject-based achievement tests were renamed the SAT II, a test many believe better demonstrates what students know.
Over 300 established, smaller colleges have already decided to require only the SAT II, saying they have received a more diverse pool of applicants since dropping the requirement. Several other liberal arts institutions have dropped the SAT I requirement, including Mount Holyoke, Bates, Bowdoin, Bard, Connecticut College, and Dickinson College.
"Small colleges could afford to do this because they could spend the time reading" individual applications, says Dickinson's VP for enrollment and student life, Dr. Robert Massa.
As for bright students with lower scores, he adds, "Our feeling is that those individuals have a great amount to contribute and we would not want them to avoid applying because they thought their test scores were too low."
However, most parents and students still believe doing well on the SAT-- or its midwestern sister, the ACT-- will all but guarantee a bright future, and many spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on prep programs that claim to raise a student's score by over 100 points.
Critics have said the "coachability" of the test gives obvious advantage to richer students who can afford to pay for special tutoring. The College Board, (the organization that oversees the test), originally claimed the test was not coachable, but now the Board sells its own tutoring books to help students improve their scores.
Kansas State University requires the ACT test as part of their admissions standard but the state system is also sympathetic toward student test stress. The system offers free private tutoring to any Kansas residents who want help with their test prep.
For most students, studying for the SAT and the ACT requires time, focus and energy that could be spent on after school activities, friends, or merely sleep.
When a student doesn't at least get a full night of sleep or parties the night before, it can hurt later on. Guidance counselor Leah Lenhart of Washington Senior High School in Washington, Iowa, has seen the captain of the football team come in after a major game the night before and drag his way through a test that could determine the rest of his life.
A common measure
Test supporters say the SAT is a good, common measure of student achievement, especially to compare students from entirely different backgrounds and school districts. They point out that an A in one school is not necessarily the same as an A in another school and the SAT helps them compare students fairly.
But schools that require SAT scores in their applications emphasize that it's just one of many factors that goes into the final decision.
"The University of Florida now employs a holistic admissions process," said UF Provost David Colburn. "Among the materials we ask students to submit are high school grades and activities, volunteer work, a response to two essay questions, and their SAT scores. So the SAT is only one source of the information we review."
Dr. Massa said the problem is that some schools could be tempted to use SAT scores as an admissions decision short cut.
"When a large
university receives a tremendous number of applications for few spaces,
a short cut in the admissions process is a valuable a time saver,"
"When an admissions officer comes across someone with an 1150, they tend not to read that application in detail," Massa said. "The SAT serves as a sorter. That is not the intent of the College Board."
-- By Samara Aberman, NewsHour Extra
Copyright © MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved