On the SAT and education

by Wm. Robert Johnston
March 2001

High school students locally and nationwide are increasingly being told that the SAT is a defective standard for college admissions. They are even confronted with claims, as mentioned in a recent Brownsville Herald article, that it discriminates against minorities. These allegations come from a lack of understanding of the SAT and sometimes from an effort to ignore the problems in U.S. education.

The SAT is specifically designed to assist colleges and universities in predicting whether a given student will succeed in courses at their institutions. The College Board itself advises that the SAT be used in conjunction with additional measures (such as grades in high school) in determining admission. Studies indicate that the SAT is the best single predictor of college success, and that when taken with additional measures it provides a very good picture.

Yes, minority students do tend to perform worse on the SAT. No, the SAT does not discriminate against minorities. It discriminates against students that are less academically prepared. The differing performance of minorities as a group is not the problem, it is a symptom of bad schools.

The problem with public schools is not lack of money. In 1998 public schools through grade 12 got 34% more money than the U.S. Defense Department. If private and post-secondary education is included, education gets two and one-half times as much funding as national defense. Rather, the problem is flawed priorities, among other things.

The SAT's detractors would have us ignore the message: American education is in bad shape. College students now routinely take a year of remedial courses to cover material that was once taught by tenth grade.

My advice to students is this: ignore the naysayers. Strive for the highest performance in all your classes, especially math and English. The SAT is simply trying to measure how well you absorbed that. Take the most challenging courses. Get good books and read, read, read. When time for the SAT comes, practice for it and take the actual SAT at least twice (I took it seven times). But if you've taken it upon yourself to get the best education possible, you've addressed the primary target of the SAT.

© 2001, 2008 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 27 January 2008.
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