secrets of the sat
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Associated Press Nancy Rabinowitz

"... Has our culture become obsessed with testing? Does test preparation alter the rules of the game? And why do gaps exist in the performance of different ethnic groups, with whites and Asians outscoring their black and Latino peers?

'Frontline' explores the issues surrounding the test in an hourlong special...

The film's creators say the test has strayed from its original purpose of measuring merit, not background, to allow all students to gain entry to even the most elite schools and colleges. They say success on the SAT depends more on family income and ethnic background than on ability.

'I think the test is biased when you look at overall schooling,' said Michael Chandler, the film's producer. 'I think what the film shows is there's a middle ground; there has to be a human element that considers human beings...It's too bad it doesn't measure a broader range of skills.'

The film draws on the book The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy by Nicholas Lemann."

The New York Times Walter Goodman

"...Despite the program's title, it is no secret that advantages of privilege are still built into the system; the student who comes from a home with educated parents (especially alumni of the desired school) and who attends private schools is likely to do a lot better than one who grows up without such amenities. As Mr. Lemann observes, 'The SAT tends to reproduce the class system from generation to generation, not turn it on its head...'

Behind the criticisms of the test, as the documentary makes clear, is a larger debate over the goal of diversity in American society. In weighing the results of Saturday's ordeal, Berkeley itself is being tested on whether it can apply the principle of merit in a way that goes deeper than the mark on one test."

The Cincinnati Enquirer Connie Langland

"...there are signs the SAT may have outlived its usefulness as a predictor of success in college. 'Secrets of the SAT' lays out the issues that swirl around the exam...

Consider J.K. Delane, one of a half-dozen high-achieving seniors from the San Francisco area featured on the program. The students vary mainly by race--and their SAT scores.

Mr. Delane wants to attend Berkeley. He is an African-American, has a 3.5 grade-point average, is senior-class president and homecoming king, plays varsity sports, and has held various internships and part-time jobs...

His scores are unimpressive: 850 out of 1,600. At Berkeley, the average score is 1,360 on the two part exam, which tests math and verbal reasoning skills...

So, which of the Bay Area students won admission to Berkeley?...The questions are answered as the 'Frontline' hour comes to a surprising end."

Chicago Sun-Times Clarence Page

"My 10-year-old son still has several years to go before he has to worry too much about it. But I have decided to do at least three things over the next few years to help prepare him for the SAT.

1. Scrape together $700 to enroll him in one of the major preparation courses that prepare students as young as 13 for taking standardized tests.

2. Buy him one of the currently available CD-ROMs that will train him for taking the test.

3. Assure him in advance that aptitude tests like the SAT are not really a measure of his aptitude.

I have been persuaded to pursue these actions by a PBS 'Frontline' documentary, 'Secrets of the SAT...'

Based largely on Nicholas Lemann's new book, 'The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy,' the program exposes how the original intent of the SAT--to make America's elite colleges accessible to all students based on merit, not birth--has been subverted. Instead, SAT scores show a high correlation with race, gender and family income and, mainly, how well students are prepared in advance, technically and psychologically, to take the test...

Lemann's book and the documentary provide one more nail in the coffin of standardized tests, which have been under increased scrutiny in recent years. School districts across the country should engage in some needed reforms."

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Jane Elizabeth Zemel

"Despite the alluring title, don't expect to hear any tips on mastering the SAT on 'Secrets of the SAT...' The program should at least have been subtitled, 'The Fickle College Admissions Officer' or 'Dangerously Pushy Parents.'

'Secrets' follows the progress of six diverse high school seniors, all of whom want to attend the highly selective University of California at Berkeley.

At age 15, Fred An was directed by his parents to move, alone, from his home state of Washington to a condo next to the Berkeley campus. He's pictured alone in his sparse apartment heating a can of soup, or walking alone to Miramonte High School. He looks sad, but his parents are sure that becoming a California resident, living near the campus and attending Miramonte will help Fred get into Berkeley. When his SAT scores come in at 1150 - well below the Berkeley average of 1360 - his parents pay more than $800 for an SAT preparation course.

If that scenario doesn't boggle your mind, check out the Laguna Beach, Calif., parents who are paying $ 500 per year, for five years, to prepare their 13- and 14-year-olds to take the SAT...

So which of these students got into Berkeley? Watch the program - I wouldn't spoil one of the only secrets in 'Secrets of the SAT.'"

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