Posted by Julie Ponzi
I love this idea!
Julie, are you opposed to standardized tests in general, or the SAT in particular?
What would be your response if, in the absence of a standardized yardstick, colleges started using more subjective criteria ... things that might be more associated with ideological leaning rather than intellectual ability?
I have no particular love or hate for the SAT. I'm just curious as to why you "love this idea" so much.
Don, the kids are tested every year with standardized tests, anyway. I used them when I home schooled my kids, and even I could have predicted their college test scores based on that testing over the years. If the SAT for college is not that much different from those tests and has been shown not to predict success in college effectively, then abolition is the way to go. The test is a waste of time.
However, I was one of Murray's bored kids (NOT from a wealthy family) who did not do particularly well in high school. I found college an entirely different way to be educated and embraced it. I have always appreciated the SAT because it opened that door for me.
Charles Murray is one very bright man. Nothing he says should be dismissed. I've read the rather long article and find he makes a good case on the merits. However, he's neglecting the political dimension of this. The liberal ideology dislikes objective tests and prefers subjective ones -- in the case of admissions, the timed writing sample -- because they allow the student to be judged on a political and cultural (or countercultural) basis. The SAT is a factor that, unlike subjective measures -- others would be "life story" and volunteer work -- cannot be politicized, or racialized or genderized. It gives the non-liberal (especially if white and male) student, provided he or she scores well enough, a somewhat better chance of admission to the college of his or her choice than would otherwise be the case. If the objective subject-matter tests Murray refers to would be used more universally, and given the same weight the SAT has had (as he appears to call for), my concerns would be alleviated or eliminated. But I think those are big "ifs," for the reasons given. If the liberal establishment also wants something, in this case, abolition or minimization of the SAT, even the arguments of a Charles Murray
may not be enough to convince me.
It may be impractical, but I think I'd like to see colleges administer their own tests. Ashland used to (it may still?) administer a test that was a kind of competition. The student with the highest score was offered a full ride. I vaguely remember that that test was more thorough and covered things (such as writing) that were not covered in the SAT (at least when I took it). I think the school doing the admitting ought to have a pretty good sense of what they are looking for in a student and it should be able to measure that better than some standardized test applied across the board. If the school doesn't have a good grasp of this, then having such a test might force them to come to grips with the things they require from students and it might make the school better in the process. I dislike SATs and standardized tests (in general) for the same reason I dislike big government programs and other impersonalized bureaucracy. It rarely helps those it is meant to help.
I make it a point not to get too worked up about the standardized tests my kids take at school. I find it very amusing that the week these tests are administered, parents are admonished to make sure the kids eat a healthy breakfast and get plenty of rest. The rest of the time I guess it's o.k. if the kids eat pop-tarts and stay up to watch the late show. These things don't do anything to educate or guide real education--but they make the school "look good" if the students perform. Thus I'm very skeptical about their value. When my daughter had to miss a day of standardized testing in order to go to her father's work for a special "kids come to work" day, I informed the teacher and she was pretty irritated that I would let her miss. She told me that it was the "language arts" day and that my daughter "really should be tested in that area" because it is there that she tends to struggle. "If we know that," I asked her, "then what are we expecting to learn from this test?" I know she struggles and you know she struggles and we both sort of know what we need to do to help her, so what is this test going to tell us? She could not answer me and was forced to admit that my point was very good. Of course my daughter should go have her special day with her father. So yes, I don't like standardized test . . . but does the fate of Western Civilization hinge on the decision to test or not to test? Of course not.
To Don in AZ: I don't think I'd really have problem with ideological yardsticks at schools that wanted to use them . . . then we'd at least be clear about where these people are coming from and they could not hide behind the veil of academic respectability. But they'd never so expose themselves. Also, if schools started administering their own tests, it would be pretty clear which schools were serious and which ones were not.
Don't colleges administer their own tests? My fifth son took tests at Kent State and there were all sorts of things he did not have to do, including courses he did not have to take and including not taking the SAT or the ACT. Why had I been such a slouch of a mother not to insist he take those tests? He was only 16 when he applied to Kent, I did not expect them to accept him. His Ohio proficiency test and other such standardized scores were wowsers, but he had not come home the night before the PSAT (though he did make it to the test) and THAT score was dismal. I wanted him to grow up some before going off to college, but apparently he is plenty mature for his program at Kent.
Of course, if he wants to change schools, he will have to take the SAT or ACT, anyway. The idea of placement in some national norm has to be a shortcut to decisions in college acceptance. For someplace like Ohio State, more than twice the population of my town, they have to be grateful for anything that alleviates and simplifies the process of finding serious applicants.
Julie, for home school parents in Ohio, the tests are necessary to fulfill state requirements. (There is a portfolio assessment option.) One year, the professional teacher administering the tests had decided, like you, that the tests were not a big deal. She told the kids not to worry so much and to fill in the dots to please themselves, not to think it some form of judgment. My fifth son, the bright boy mentioned above, took her literally and occupied himself making interesting patterns in the dots on the page and did not even bother reading the test questions. Why worry? He was very proud of being the first one done in every test period.
The resulting score made him look seriously retarded. These came to us late in the summer, and thinking the county board could tell from his past years' scores that this was an aberration, sent the test in along with those of the other boys. Was I wrong! We were threatened with the removal of our child from our home, not just from the home school. We appealed, got my friend, the teacher, to intervene and she was allowed to help us "remediate" our boy (we, in fact did nothing differently) and he took that same test at six month intervals, twice, to prove he was not mentally deficient. He got really good at that test. The incident taught him a valuable lesson in antipathy towards state experts. Unfortunately and ultimately, he has extrapolated this to an inclination to antipathy towards authority in general.
Kate wrote: "One year, the professional teacher administering the tests had decided, like you, that the tests were not a big deal. She told the kids not to worry so much and to fill in the dots to please themselves, not to think it some form of judgment."
In the ensuing troubles you faced, did you mention to any of the "state authorities" the guidance offered by this teacher? It seems striking that someone supposedly granted authority to administer such a thing would take such an attitude and, more striking, verbalize it.
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