secrets of the sat
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Just days before hundreds of thousands of high school students take the SAT--a three-hour college entrance exam that tests verbal and math skills--FRONTLINE's "Secrets of the SAT" examines the national obsession over the SAT and the controversy over its fairness, reliability and impact on racial diversity on campus.

This report draws on the work of Nicholas Lemann and his five-year study of the SAT--The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocacy. Lemann discusses the origins of the SAT, the idea of an American meritocracy (an idea that goes back to correspondance between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams), and how the SAT today has become a ticket into America's ruling class.

To discover just how important SAT scores are to a student's future, FRONTLINE looks at the booming test prep business which offers test preparation courses for students as young as 13 and 14. FRONTLINE's cameras also follow seven students who are applying to the University of California, Berkeley, the country's most selective public university, and go inside the admissions process at Berkeley where those seven students are competing with 31,000 others for 3,500 spots.

Berkeley's director of admissions, Bob Laird, explains how Berkeley is shifting away from test numbers and towards a more rounded evaluation of applicants. However, since California's Proposition 209 was passed in 1996, the university cannot consider race in the admissions process. Consequently, the numbers of minority students who get into Berkeley has dropped sharply because black and Hispanic students test scores are 100-200 points lower than whites and Asians. How then can Berkeley encourage diversity on its campus without violating the law?

FRONTLINE explores the debate over race sensitive admission policies in interviews with Derek Bok and William Bowen, former presidents, respectively, of Harvard and Princeton University, who conducted a 30-year study of race sensitive admission policies which shows their positive effect. FRONTLINE also interviews educators John Yoo and Abigail Thernstrom who argue for race neutral admissions.

"Secrets of the SAT" also takes a closer look at the black-white test score gap which though large, eludes easy explanation. Psychology professor Claude Steele at Stanford University explains how his research may partly explain the disparity. His studies focused on the way good students do poorly on tests because they suffer from negative stereotypes about their abilities.

And then there is the issue of what exactly does the SAT measure and, does it correlate with I.Q.? Test prep experts John Katzman, founder of Princeton Review and Jonathan Grayer, head of Kaplan Educational Centers, as well as law professor Lani Guinier, analyze and debate the reliability of standardized tests like the SAT and their predictive ability for success later in life. And Robert Sternberg, a researcher on human intelligence, argues for broadening the definition of intelligence and creating new tools to measure it.

This report ends with news on which of the seven students FRONTLINE followed won admission to Berkeley. Did some of these students' low SAT scores affect Berkeley's decision to admit them or not?

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