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Education Reporter

Will Colleges Bury the SAT?

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A few months ago, University of California President Richard Atkinson made headlines when he announced that he wants his university to drop the SAT (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test), which for 40 years has been a reliable predictor of how well college students will perform during their freshman year. College Board President Gaston Caperton countered that dropping the test "makes no more sense than dropping classroom grades." Caperton noted that neither grades nor the SAT are "perfect measures of a student's readiness for college," but that, in combination with other predictors, they make a "powerful set of tools" for admissions officers.

The SAT has often been attacked as "racially (and culturally) biased," even though the Education Testing Service spent millions of dollars in the 1970s to make it more minority-friendly. Renewed attacks erupted in California after the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which eliminated racial quotas and preferences in college admissions.

Anti-SAT forces charge that the test unfairly burdens "underrepresented" minorities' ability to get into selective schools, intimidates Blacks and Latinos, and increases high school students' stress.

In his commentary (3-15-01), columnist George Will put the argument in perspective: "The vast majority of America's 2,300 four-year post-secondary schools have, in effect, open admissions: If you have a pulse and a high school diploma, you can attend. So the controversy is primarily important only to the minority of high-school high achievers seeking admission to the small minority of highly selective institutions."

Some SAT defenders, including nationally-syndicated columnist Walter E. Williams, accuse those who would eliminate the test of doing "a great disservice" to minority students, because "it amounts to telling them that the reason they do poorly isn't because they're ill-prepared or weren't serious enough about high school work. Instead, students are told the questions are racist - hence, poor performance is not their fault."

Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, observed in a GOPUSA internet column (3-13-01) that unless we are willing to dumb down college curriculum even further than we have over the past 30 years, many students won't make it through four years of higher education, regardless of race. "The SAT isn't to blame for underachievement," she wrote, "and eliminating the test won't make the underlying obstacles to success disappear."

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