Education Letter to the Editor

SAT Critic Responds to College Board Rebuttal

July 25, 2006 2 min read

To the Editor:

Wayne Camara, the vice president of research for the College Board, takes me to task in his July 12, 2006, letter to the editor for daring, in my recent Commentary, to question the continued use of the nation’s gatekeeper to college (“UnSATisfactory: Why Education’s Most Famous Test Fails the Test,” June 14, 2006). He does so by spinning the evidence about the SAT’s coachability, predictive value, and indispensability.

Mr. Camara begins by citing 10 peer-reviewed studies showing that coaching results in an increase of only 8 to 15 points on the SAT’s verbal section, and only 15 to 23 points on the math section. He maintains that these results are proof that the effects of coaching are insignificant. What he fails to mention is that these improvements confer an important competitive edge on applicants at a time when the entire purpose of the SAT is to separate students out. This is the legacy of the Army Alpha tests from World War I.

Mr. Camara then zeroes in on the Bates College study I cite, characterizing it as an anomaly. In fact, other colleges that have made the SAT optional have reported similar results in terms of cumulative grades and graduation rates. He tries to divert attention from this inconvenient fact by arguing that colleges are free to use both grades and test scores. Of course they are, but four-year grades and SAT scores do not measure the same thing. Criterion-referenced instruments and norm-referenced instruments are designed with different purposes in mind. As a result, inferences are not interchangeable.

Having run out of red herrings, Mr. Camara finally throws in the classic “indispensability” argument. He claims that, in the absence of a national curriculum and national standards, the SAT offers the only objective datum available to admissions officers. The SAT may be the cheapest and fastest way of assessment, but it is hardly the only defensible way to judge applicants. They can exhibit learning through such means as research papers and projects, mathematical problems and applications, and oral presentations—all measured by the establishment of clear rubrics.

The SAT has too long held sway over the college-admissions process by engaging in a series of guileful pronouncements. It’s time to debunk the myth about what the test really measures. The changes in its name over the years are an indication that its designers themselves are utterly confused.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 26, 2006 edition of Education Week as SAT Critic Responds to College Board Rebuttal