Published Online:

Charges Traded Over Call for S.A.T.'s Abolition

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The president of the Educational Testing Service, Gregory R. Anrig, has criticized the author of a new book, None of the Above: Behind the Myth of Scholastic Aptitude, for recommending the abolition of the New Jersey-based testing service's Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The book, which is highly critical of the practices of the testing service, questions the scientific validity of the sat and focuses in detail on what the author claims are serious flaws in the test. The author, a freelance writer named David Owen, charges that the guiding philosphy of ets "is that people's positions in society should be determined by their scores on a series of multiple-choice tests. The company's executives believe that human superiority and inferiority can and should be measured scientifically and rewarded accordingly."

Among other criticisms, Mr.3Owen contends that most colleges are not selective enough to have any use for the sat in their admissions decisions but require the test anyway to create the illusion of being selective. "The sat plays virtually no useful role in college admissions right now," the author writes in the book, published last month by Houghton Mifflin Company. "Getting rid of it would not, by itself, make admissions very different."

"The simple fact is that, to the extent that it is used at all, the sat is used mostly to help determine which wealthy young whites will attend which wealthy white colleges," Mr. Owen states.

Approximately 1.5 million high-school students take the sat each year at a cost of $11 per student.

Lack of 'Solutions'

In a two-page statement, Mr. Anrig countered that "the book's greatest flaw is its failure to offer better solutions for what it criticizes."

"Do we really want to go back to the 'good old days' in American higher education?" the ets president asked. "Those were the days when admission to many colleges and universities depended on the prestige of your private or public high school, who your parents were, whether a relative was an alumnus/a (and a donating one at that), and whether you would 'fit in' with a student body much like its predecessors over the years. Standardized admissions testing was begun by leaders in higher education, in large part, to overcome such barriers."

Mr. Anrig's letter was accompanied by a seven-page, point-by-point rebuttal of several "key issues" discussed in Mr. Owen's book.

The statement defended the scientific validity of the sat, noting, "Probably no standardized test in the world has been scrutinized more closely over the years by scholars, critics, and users than has the sat The sat stands up under this scrutiny because it does well what it is designed to do. It is valued by those who must make admissions decisions because it is useful when combined with other information about applicants to college."

"The most disturbing aspect of Mr. Owen's book is not its attacks on ets or its failure to recognize the considerable body of research that contradicts its major conclusions," the statement continued, "but the degree to which it exaggerates and distorts the role of tests in admissions decisionmaking in American higher education."

'Distorts My Book'

In a telephone interview, Mr. Owen said, "I am much fairer to ets in my book than ets was to me in their response."

"I wanted to be persuasive, so I tried to make their best case by quoting from their publications and then beating their best arguments by showing that they didn't hold up," he said. "ets's statement essentially distorts my book and then answers the distortions."

After a general introduction criticizing None of the Above, the ets statement selected four quotations from the book and provided a detailed rebuttal of each quotation. Mr. Owen complained that the ets paraphrased the key ideas in specific chapters and then placed the paraphrased sentence in quotation marks as if it had been taken directly from the text of the book.

"They pulled out four statements that they said came from my book which they put in quotation marks and proceeded to answer," Mr. Owen said. "None of those statements appear in my book. They are ets fabrications and distortions."

Series of Critiques

None of the Above, which is heavily footnoted and makes liberal use of past scholarly research on the effectiveness of scholastic-aptitude tests, is the latest in a series of attacks on the sat made over the past 20 years. Mr. Owen discusses the work of Banesh Hoffman, a mathematician and colleague of Albert Einstein at the Center for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., who in the early 1960's became one of the first academics to criticize the scientific validity of multiple-choice aptitude tests.

He also cites a study conducted by James Crouse, a professor of education at the University of Delaware, who challenged the claim that the sat is an accurate predictor of a college students' first-year grades.

In the late 1970's, the consumer activist Ralph Nader and others charged that the tests were racially biased and that the testing service ought to be required to release to students their results and more details about the closely guarded examination. That attack led to "truth-in-testing" laws in several states.

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories