STAFF EDITORIAL: Study rightly questions SAT’s efficacy

The Scholastic Aptitude Test haunts most high school students throughout their education. It looms over them, waiting to decide their fate with a four-digit number. Practice begins in grades as low as seventh in some schools, and many parents shell out hundreds of dollars for extensive prep courses. But for what? A study shows perhaps nothing.

Released by a group of college admissions officials led by William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard University, the study found that the SAT is "incredibly imprecise" at predicting academic performance, The New York Times reported Monday. The study also showed that standardized tests do not take into account students’ educational backgrounds or their access to services such as prep courses, the Times reported.

Critics have long questioned the reliability of standardized tests, which aim to evaluate an incredibly diverse group of people with an incredibly narrow model. The last major overhaul of the SAT came in 2006, when a writing section was added, the usual math and reading sections were altered and the highest possible score was changed to 2400 from 1600. However, it seems that improving the test’s representation of academic achievement doesn’t lie in adding more to it, but relying less on it.

Instead of using the test as a mark of intelligence, colleges should strive to learn more about their students and base judgment on a range of academic achievements rather than one number.

To assume that a single test score is any indication of educational success is to completely disregard where the student grew up, what his or her learning environment was and what the quality of his or her school was. While some schools do look further into their prospective students’ backgrounds, the majority of students must still score above a set mark to be considered.

While the Times reported that Fitzsimmons said the SAT does have advantages – though it did not address what they were – it also stated his audience, comprised of high school counselors and college admissions officials, "erupted in applause" when he pointed out its flaws.

It’s high time the effectiveness of standardized tests was called into question, especially when more schools focus on them at lower levels, as required under No Child Left Behind. These tests act mostly as added stressors to students already facing competitive admission processes. While a vast number of applications are received yearly, the admissions process must be changed so that universities stop viewing students as numbers and start looking at them as people. After all, it is these people who will come to shape their schools and communities.

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