March 28, 2014

FREY: The SAT has run its course and then some


---- — In the March 24 issue of Time, Leon Bolstein, president of Bard College and the music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, published a doom-and-gloom commentary on the SAT.

Bard writes that the scholastic aptitude test is “part hoax and part fraud” and should be “abandoned and replaced.”

The $51 paper-based standardized test (which has been wreaking havoc on would-be college students since first introduced in 1926) is owned, published and developed by the College Board, which is a private, nonprofit organization.

Taking 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete, the multiple-choice and sentence completion test is composed of three sections: critical reading, mathematics and writing (not even taken into consideration at some colleges and universities).

Although the College Board advertises that the SAT is an “essential passport” for college admission and a path to financial support through scholarships, Bolstein vehemently disagrees.

“The blunt fact is that high school grades, as long as they are adjusted to account for the curriculums and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates, are a much better predictor of academic achievements in college than the SAT.”

Bolstein further writes that the test violates the basic justification for any test because it remains divorced from what is taught in high school and what ought to be taught in high school, and that the test taker never really finds out whether he or she got any answer right or wrong or why, for that matter (unless, of course, you would like to pay the College Board yet another fee to find out).

My son, Charles, who is a junior at Frankfort High School, will take the test on May 3.

In the meantime, Charles and his friends are enrolled in a two-month SAT prep course called Excel Edge taught by an FHS English teacher and an FHS math teacher.

Along with studying the definitions of words which might appear on the test and boning up on algebra and geometry and probability and statistics (guess you are out of luck if you chose not to take probability and statistics in high school), Charles reports that he and his fellow students are learning strategies and tricks of the trade for taking the test.

What is wrong with that picture?

Here in Indiana, teachers are provided with standards for subjects taught. Consequently, teachers teach academic material based on those standards. Students are then given grades for subjects based on quizzes, tests, projects, and papers.

Final grades are then recorded on a student’s transcript, which, in my opinion, is a true and accurate reflection of that student’s ability when being considered for admission to college.

It should be that simple.

“The College Board has successfully marketed its exams to parents, students, colleges, and universities as arbiters of educational standards,” Bolstein wrote. “As every adult recognizes, knowing something, or knowing how to do something, in real life is never defined by a set of possible options (some of them intentionally misleading) put forward by faceless test designers.”

I agree.

It is time for colleges and universities to forgo admission based on what Bolstein calls a “bizarre relic of long-outdated 20th century social-scientific assumptions and strategies.”

If there has to be a test, Bolstein believes it needs to a legitimate one, a test that puts forth questions with answers not shrouded in hints and obscure half truths.

I say no test at all.

At the end of the day, our students should be able to rest in the fact that their achievements in the classroom were not trumped by a “part hoax and part fraud” essential passport.

Alvia Lewis Frey is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at