Tag Archives: college admissions

Has The SAT Test Undergone A Backlash?

 By Elwood Watson


    There is a good chance that if you were a high school junior or senior applying to a four-year college or university you’ve seen a question like the following. “Select the lettered pair that best expresses a relationship similar to that expressed in the original pair:



(A)   music:piano

(B)   brass:trumpet

(C)   drumstick:drum

(D)   string:guitar

(E)    note:flute


    The correct answer is C. From its conception 86 years ago in 1926, the scholastic aptitude test (more commonly known as the SAT) has been administered to thousands of high school students who have dreams of being selected to attend the college or university of their choice. Over the past few years, the SAT has undergone some significant changes. For one, in 2005, the analogy portion like the aforementioned question example was replaced with longer reading comprehension passages and a writing section. The perfect score that a student could obtain changed from 1600 to 2400. 


  The test has had a virtual stranglehold on parents, teachers and students. A large number of teachers gear their subject matter toward the test. Parents reach deep into their pockets to shell out as much as thousands of dollars for prep coaches, software and other assorted materials in an effort to help their children secure those high scores that are often the gateway for admission to many of our nation’s elite institutions. Many students have measured their intelligence by the test. For others, it has been a crucial portion of their self-worth. 


      Some teachers and guidance counselors view students with high SAT scores but with a mediocre grade point average as “lazy” or an” underachiever.” On the contrary, a student with low SAT scores and a high GPA is seen as “hardworking” or an “overachiever.” Rarely, does anyone rationalize the fact that such students are either good or poor test takers. Personally, I believe a major reason many students are entering college unable to write coherent paragraphs, let alone quality good papers and requiring remedial courses to master material that they should have learned in high school is these tests. The fact is too many high school teachers and administrators are spending too much misplaced energy on teaching to a largely problematic test as opposed to having students reading literature, writing essays and analyzing various critical works. To be blunt, the SAT has eclipsed the high school curriculum that high school students are supposed to learn.

      From time to time, the SAT has found itself at the center of controversy in many secondary and higher education institutions. Just last month, a blue ribbon panel of experts on higher education recently asked a number of colleges to reconsider or possibly end their SAT admissions mandates. The panel came to the conclusion that SAT scores are often a less than accurate predictor of college performance. They also reiterated the well-known fact that studies have shown that many lower income and students of color are often at a financial and cultural disadvantage when taking the test.   

            There are a number of higher education institutions that have decided to forego the “SAT as gospel” message. Rather, such schools have undertaken a variety of factors in an effort to assemble a well-qualified and diverse student body. High school curriculum, leadership, community activism, personal life histories and moral character are just a few. According to Jesse Mermell, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a Boston-based advocacy group, more than 40 institutions have dropped admissions tests since 2004. Among these schools are highly selective ones such as Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and Wake Forest University in N.C.     

         While there have been a few statistics over the years proving that the SAT can distinguish strong students from weaker ones, recent evidence and the emerging findings from NACAC have proven that Scholastic Aptitude Test measures one thing – a student’s ability at taking the test. It does not measure characteristics such as intelligence, creativity, motivation and perseverance. These are the qualities that a student must possess a certain amount of if he or she intends to successfully earn a bachelor’s degree. It is good to see that many parties – high schools, admissions offices and others — are working together to create an  admissions process that encompasses a holistic manner of selecting students for college as opposed to relying either primarily or disproportionately on standardized tests like the SAT that fail to measure crucial elements of a person. This is particularly true in the case of students of color.     

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)











The Value of Diversity Among Institutions

By Frank Wu

We have confused two propositions: we have come to believe that aspiring to greater excellence as an institution of higher education means striving to become the same as other schools. In particular, in the pursuit of higher rankings, we have confused excellence with exclusivity. Thus, it would be easy to search and replace the names and the logos from the viewbooks of most universities with that of their nearest rival, and no reader would be any the wiser. We have forgotten the value of diversity among institutions, even as we celebrate diversity within institutions. Yet the rankings are only an excuse. Even without surveys, too many of us seem to share exactly the same vision for our colleges.

One of the great strengths of the American system of higher education as a whole, however, is that it boasts such a range of offerings. If every public university tries to be one of the top 10 public universities in research funding, or every liberal arts college one of the most elite, we as a society and individuals will be worse off rather than better off. We will have forgotten the value of missions and access.

There are so many schools with unique identities: they are religious, historically black, single-sex, especially strong in specific disciplines, and so on. They have served distinct populations by giving more than a credential. They have become the center of communities. Even as mainstream institutions open up to all comers who are qualified, it is still worthwhile to have places where the minority is the majority, where an individual can be intellectually challenged without the burden of being compelled to represent a group. We may not always agree with the goals of such places, but that is exactly the point of having so many options. (We might be uneasy, for example, that the argument about institutional diversity was advanced by Virginia Military Institute in its unsuccessful effort, as a state school, to remain all-male; in part, the Supreme Court was skeptical that institutional diversity was actually a goal of the state. Nonetheless, there are institutions that contribute in a constitutionally permissible manner to institutional diversity.)

There have been so many schools that have balanced the importance of generating new knowledge with the responsibility to disseminate existing knowledge, but whose leaders face demands to shift toward research and away from teaching. All faculties claim to value both research and teaching, but the allocation of resources and the distribution of rewards shows that they are not valued equally. The mix is beneficial for all of us. There is nothing wrong with a school becoming more selective in its admissions, but there is something wrong with all schools doing so. Land grant schools and urban schools, among others, were founded to serve the public more generally and that vision remains worthwhile.

As Oscar Wilde once said, the only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it. Ironically, the would-be consumers of higher education of as product who would like to have exclusivity do not realize that most of them will be turned away if to achieve that cachet.

Frank H. Wu is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White; he was Dean of Wayne State University Law School and Professor at Howard University Law School.