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
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
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?
who got in? |
the race issue |
sat & test prep |
history of the sat
the screening process |
test score gap |
getting in to berkeley |
tapes & transcripts |
pbs online |