For most high school students who want to attend an elite college, the SAT is more than a test. It is one of life's landmarks. Waiting for the scores--one for Verbal, one for Math, and now one for Writing, with a posible 800 on each--is painfully suspenseful. The exact scores scores are commonly remembered forever after. So it has been for half a century. But events of recent years have challenged the SAt's position. In 2001, Richard Atkinson (2001), president of the University of California, proposed dropping the SAT as a requirement for admission. More and more prestigious small colleges, such as Middlebury and Bennington, are making the SAT optional. The charge that the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged students--"a wealth test," as Harvard law professor Lani Guinier calls it--has been ubiquitous (Zwick, 2004).
I have watched the attacks on the SAT with dismay. Back in 1961, the test helped get me into Harvard from a small Iowa town by giving me a way to show that I could compete with applicants from Exeter and Andover. Ever since, I have seen the SAT as the friend of the little guy, just as James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard, said it would be when he urged the SAT upon the nation in the 1940s.
Conant's cause was as unambiguously liberal in the 1940s as income redistribution is today. Then, America's elite colleges drew most of their students from a small set of elite secondary schools, concentrated in the northeastern United States, to which America's wealthy sent their children. The mission of the SAT was to identiy intellectual talent regardless of race, color, creed, money, or geography, and give that talent a chance to blowwom. Students from small towns and from poor neighborhoods in big cities were supposed to benefit--as I thought I did, and as many others think they did. But data trump gratitude. The evidence has become overwhelming that the SAT no longer serves a democratizing purpose. Worse, events have conspired to make the SAT a negative force in American life. And so I find myself arguing that the SAT should be abolished. Not just deemphasized, but no longer administered. Nothing important would be lost by so doing. Much would be gained.
Murray, Charles. (2011). Abolishing the SAT. In Soares, Joseph A. (Ed.), SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions (pp. 69-81). New York: Teachers College Press.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Charles Murray on abolishing the SAT