secrets of the sat
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What are your views on the importance of the SAT score?  And, should colleges and universities take race into account as a plus factor in admissions decisions?
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Dear FRONTLINE,

Your documentary on the SAT examinations offered extensive comments on the consequences of race and ethnicity preferences, and abandonment of these quotas in California, after the overturn of affirmative action politics, but not any information on sex preferences which favour women applicants.

I would be grateful for references on the results of abolition of affirmative action on female applicants and female graduation rates, before and after AI abolition.

Noah Asher
Montreal, Canada H4B 2W6

Dear FRONTLINE,

The SAT is the worst medium of intelligence offered. I really wish there was something we could do to get rid of it. I don't believe that this test should be the underlining factor that determines one's future.

The highest score I ever recieved after taking it 4 times was a 680. By far, I didn't have the best grades in high school. I was only admitted into one of the four colleges I applied to.

But when I was given the opportunity to go to college, I really wanted to prove everyone wrong. That I was no dummy, and that SAT scores mean absolutly nothing...

I am currently on my way to becoming an engineer. I graduate in less than 6 months. But graduating brings up another fear of mine, taking the GRE. I know I will go through the same hassle I went through with the SAT 5 years ago...

kevin caldwell

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a 4th year medical student and member of the admissions committee at UC San Francisco School of Medicine and a former Cal Berkeley Alumni 1996.

When I applied to Berkeley in 1992, I was still under protective status as a member of an under-represented minority group. I feel race probably did have some role in me getting accepted. Berkeley gave me a chance and it opened doors for me to be a competitive applicant in medical school. I worked very hard in Berkeley and graduated with honors while still working partime.

If we were to strictly look at SAT scores then this would not fully predict where I would be now. I had many college friends who had 1400-1600's on the SAT's and yet had a very difficult time at Cal...

Jeffrey Mariano

Dear FRONTLINE,

I believe that the SAT prep classes should be free to everyone. This way there is no argument on rich or poor. Our tax dollars should be used to prepare our children in their senior year in high school, on what to expect in the "real world".

Everyone is out there to make a buck, and it's really sad that people will charge $500.00 to improve SAT scores, when it should be the responsibility of our schools to supply a program like this in the first place.

Admission into a major university should depend on high scores, not on race. If Berkley finds that the majority of their students are Asian or if 99% are African American, maybe then will someone try to improve the quality of education in our public schools in every area, rich or poor!


Anna Phillips
San Diego, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a father, former teacher, counselor, and high school principal, I believe too much emphasis has been placed on the SAT tests. Kids go to SAT review courses, pay ridiculous sums to attend, and often take the exam over and over again.

The SAT cannot and does not measure many attributes that make for a successful student in college, such as ambition, determination, perseverance, and maturity. Moreover, a student may be highly gifted in language and literature and do very poorly in mathematics.

The SAT is owned and operated by a private corporation and now holds the key to the gate of many institutions of higher education.Upper middle class kids at the best high schools virtually own the test. Do away with it.


Herbert Dodge
Fallbrook, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

I attend a high school in Germantown, Maryland and agree with the way that many are questioning the value and accuracy of the SATs. I do not believe that the SATs are any form of an indicator of a student's capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, or study skills. Nor does it tell how one will do at the college level.

The truth is, the test is biased and knowing that, it still plays a large role in where I will go to college in the future. Many students are just not good test takers...

All I can pray for is that the Dean of Admissions has enough insight to know that this is fact and that they'll be losing many bright and capable young adults if they turn us bad test takers away because of our SAT scores.


Mary Arriola
Germantown, Maryland

Dear FRONTLINE,

Linguists and logical advocates agree there is something wrong with admissions decisions based solely on SAT scores. As I read each essay in "who got in", I realized a lot could be learned about an individual's accomplishments and goals...

SAT scores are overemphasized in regard to future success in the university/college arena. UC-Berkley's admissions process appears to be favorable in that they don't only look at "scores" in rendering admissions decisions...

As far as race, absolutely not! In no way should any person's race be a factor. There is no win/win when race is on the table. What about potential and accomplishments?


Tony Gadison
Springdale, AR

Dear FRONTLINE,

The report was very thought provoking and raised some very good points.

However, one question that kept being raised in my mind was why where the admission levels of "blacks" at one particular school being compared to the "white" national admission average?

This seems nearly useless considering the wide range of admission standards and criteria used by literally thousands of different colleges and universites nation-wide.

Also, I think looking at inequalities in the SAT is akin to shooting the messenger in regards to inequalities in primary and secondary education.

Speaking from experience, "blacks" have no problem getting the same, if not better, SAT scores as "whites" if they're given an adaquate primary and secondary education.

Jim Johnson

Dear FRONTLINE,

I taught for two years in Japan, and saw many many tired junior and senior high students, attending test prep schools every night. I felt sorry for the students, whose minds were not being opened to academics. My heart continues to sink as we repeat the same folly here.
2. It was disappointing to see so many students focusing on only one university.

The UC system has many fine campuses, and applicants should see beyond UC Berkeley. Berkeley is a fine academic institution, but so are the other UC campuses.

In choosing an undergraduate institution, students should look for the one that's the best match for them. For some, Berkeley is best; for others, UC Santa Cruz might be a better fit.
As an employer, a job applicant's undergraduate institution doesn't hold very much weight. More important is what the student did there, what he or she got out of the opportunities the institution offered.

Robert Moorehead
Walnut Creek, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a parent of a senior in high school currently going through the college admissions process, your show helped to confirm what we unfortunately already know - that admission to a highly selective university is, in large part, a crap shoot.

Throughout my son's entire education, we've encouraged him to do the best he can in school, to find an interest and pursue it with a passion, and to get involved in the community - all of which he has done. Yet as we visited campuses over the last year, everywhere we went, we were told the same thing - there is no guarantee. And your show definitely demonstrated that. I was aamzed at the final admissions decisions.

Last year, one of the valedictorians in my son's school applied to eight prestigious, highly selective universities. He had a 4.0 with a difficult curriculum and 1600 on his SATs. He was also a band member and cross country athlete for four years, as well as numerous club memberships and academic awards. Yet this student was only admitted to his "safety" school. We found this extremely discouraging, and have now been worrying for the last four months about our own son's chances. Since our son is applying early decision to a highly selective East coast university, we'll soon know whether all his effort has paid off. But in the meantime, we all sit and worry, and he begins to think about his second choice schools.

If he doesn't get into to his first choice, what message does that send to my other child, who is a freshman, about hard work and dedication paying off??? We're keeping our fingers crossed!

barbara shilowich

Dear FRONTLINE,

Reading the posts and information regarding the program brought back so many memories of my senior year in high school. I can totally relate to their worries about getting into a top-notch university such as Cal. It was only last year that I went through the same process. I was scared to death that I wouldn't get into a school that was at least at the level of UC Berkeley.

I had gotten the impression - from my parents, teachers, and the media - that successful people went to top schools. If I didn't get into Cal, then I wouldn't be a top lawyer, doctor, or businesswoman. There's so much pressure today on teenagers to get into the best schools, and reading annual rankings aren't helping. Every year in high school I promised myself I'd go to a top 25 school, and I did.

These kids are just feeling the same pressure. UC Berkeley gives students an ivy league education at a public school price. They probably thought Cal was their best chance at getting the best education at a great value.


...SAT's certainly don't tell the whole story but they can be a great indicator of how well one will do in college. Cal will be tough for the low scorer, but that just gives students more reason to study harder. Cal is a competitive school to begin with and those who already have an "I have to work even harder" mentality will have the edge. Do you think these kids don't realize how hard they have to work prove their critics wrong? They know what they're up against.

Despite our reputation as being diverse, I can count on my two hands the number of non-white and non-asian students in my dorm. Cal needs to do a better job in getting minorities to attend after getting accepted.

Marites Mendoza

Dear FRONTLINE,

I'd like to reflect on the very messages that are being streamed through this message board. Although it is an imperfect medium of conversation, it depicts the social phenomenon that has plagued our society for decades.

It is polarized into those who believe the SAT's are a true test of knowledge, and that the best of the best of everything deserves so, and those who believe that striving to overcome obstacles, even they maybe be internal, inherent, or products of some cultural factor, reflects a willingness to achieve. Frankly, it is obvious who is white, and who is black that are responding, it is not hidden by their thoughts.

We must understand that whites and black perceived things on planes of thought that are miles apart, which is the basis for Claude Steele's argument. Blacks are disadvantaged because of history, and the toll it has wrought on the psychological profile of the race. Albeit, we cannot change history, it would be realistic so point out that it is possible to acknoweldge this fundamental difference as not a genetic abberation, as in the Bell Curve, or some social dysfunction, but a cause and effect relationship spurned over decades of social and psyhcological mayhem.


Finally, I'd like to say that as far as SAT go, High School Students of the World Unite Against the SAT's!!!!! They are a waste of time simply becuase they reflect a half-century old benchmark that test-taking ability is related to mental capacity, is related to average propensity to score X A's and Y B's in a college freshman's first semester or so.

As a freshman at Duke University, I know for sure that how well I'm doing grades-wise has nothing to do with the SAT's I took a year and a half ago, but more with hard work and listening respectively to what the profesor has to say.

Dan Broderick
Durham, NC

Dear FRONTLINE,

Congratulations to Frontline for striking a blow against the societal injustices of racial and economic inequities. The SAT is definitely biased in favor of the rich, and is probably biased against minorities as well. To those who say that race and socioeconomic factors should not be considered in college admissions, I offer the story of my own school history.

I attended a very poor elementary school in a mostly black neighborhood, but I was lucky enough to be accepted into a magnet high school in another city with a great academic program. Many of my teachers had advanced degrees, there was enough money for good textbooks and computers, and all of the students were bright and interested in learning. Sure, I was a little out of my depth at first because most of the other students came from privileged homes and had attended better elementary schools than I had, but I was every bit as smart as they were. Pretty soon I was performing at and above the level of most of my classmates. At this high school I honed my writing skills, became an effective public speaker, learned to research serious topics, and took as many advanced placement courses as I could. Over 95% of the students went on to college, and very selective ones at that. My road to a top college was pretty much set.

Now, imagine that I hadn't been lucky enough to be accepted into that school, but instead went to the local high school like everyone else. In addition to poorer teaching and fewer resources, I would have had to put up with the constant fear of violence, the presence of drugs, and an atmosphere where learning simply wasn't highly valued. On paper, my standardized test scores would have been considerably lower and my courseload not nearly as impressive. The "impartial" indicators of standardized tests and gradepoint average would have shown me to be less capable than I really am. Same person, same potential, but less achievement simply because of circumstance. It's for reasons such as these that I am convinced that college admissions must take race and socioeconomic factors into account in order to be fair to disadvantaged groups.

Some would argue that such a stance allows less qualified applicants to be admitted in the place of others who are more qualified, but these people need to be set straight on one point: Top-level colleges and universities do NOT admit unqualified students! Any student, regardless of "special considerations", will not be accepted to a college if he or she is obviously unqualified. However, so many people apply to a given college that it is certain that some of the
rejected applicants are qualified students for whom there simply wasn't enough space. When it comes to choosing between qualified applicants, who's to say that raw test scores should be the only basis of comparison? Maybe it is a little unfair to favor a disadvantaged student over a kid from a rich family who scored a hundred points higher on his SAT. But isn't it even more unfair not to consider that the disadvantaged student may be an immigrant, that he may have only learned to speak English a few years ago, that he may have attended a low quality high school, and that he maybe had to hold down an afterschool job to help support the family? Such factors might help to explain why his scores are lower. They also imply a higher level of maturity than the rich kid with great test scores who never challenged himself, never did anything to benefit his community or his school, and probably took a review course to boost his test scores above those of poorer kids.

If we lived in a utopian world where opportunity existed equally for everyone, universities should feel obliged to ignore considerations of race and class. The ideal solution is to work towards true equality and equal opportunities for everyone. But I don't see it happening, not quickly enough. Colleges are taking a big step forward by considering background and circumstance when judging the "merit" of applicants. Besides, college is more than just a place to learn. It is a place where leaders are forged and opportunities abound. Effective college students are not only smart, but also possess maturity, tenacity, and the strength of will to take advantage of all their schools have to offer. Test scores and GPAs tell only part of the story. The intangibles have to be considered to judge whether an applicant has the strength of character to succeed at the nation's top colleges.

Barry Davis

Dear FRONTLINE,

Economic and personal background should be the plus factor, not race. I would give more preference to a young person who has succeeded in adverse circumstances than to anyone who has excelled in ideal circumstances. Everything learned, bought, or taught can get you a good score.

Bravo, Frontline! Considering how important getting a high score is in gaining admission to college, it was refreshing to see how a young personís world brings them to that crossroad in life.


Melissa Johnson
Boston, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Berkeley could save money by not bothering with 50 odd readers. Just flipping a coin would have done as well at a fraction of the cost.

As a graduate of an elite institution and teacher at a plain vanilla university, I would reiterate what the guidance counselor said, "many of them would be better off at another UC or in the CSU system." Excellent educational opportunities abound in this country.

Dan Lickly

Dear FRONTLINE,

I worked for the Princeton Review coaching high school kids in SAT skills. I was a graduate student at the time and my own scores on the graduate equivalent of the test GRE were nothing to crow about. After having taught the test skills for about a year I retook the GRE and low and behold my own scores jumped over 100 points. Coaching works - money buys coaching - money buys admission into Berkely. There are no two ways about it.

I find it troubling that these students waste so much of their youth obsessed with where they are going to college. There are so many choices and quality programs. It strikes me as a kind of Name Brand worship that is sad.

What people need to realize is that the State University in their area is taught by people with PhDs from Berkely, Harvard and lots of other "known" universities. Quality education is often found in surprising places. Some of the most important scholars in their field teach at small, relatively unknown schools. If these kids and especially their parents would think outside the box a little, they might not waste so much time and energy chasing after a "name".

Steven Mortenson
Statesboro, GA.

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