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Testing the Truth About the SAT

Testing the Truth About the SAT

This revised and updated version of David Owen’s 1985 exposé is: a) a balanced and objective analysis of the merits and limitations of the Scholastic Aptitude Test  as a college entrance examination; b) a one-sided diatribe that can be easily dismissed; c) a significant extension of the original volume; d) none of the above.
The obvious answer to this question makes it a poor candidate for an SAT question. However, the limited information it provides about the depth and breadth of this well-researched inquiry mirrors the insufficiency of the SAT as a test of scholastic aptitude,  ability or whatever its administrators will next claim it measures.
The two prefaces and two forwards set the tone for this unapologetic attack on the Educational Testing Service — which develops, revises, and administers the SAT for the College Board — and all of its products, but especially the SAT. The book then launches into a full frontal assault on ETS, poking fun at the corporate greed, misplaced values and the extremely thin scientific veneer under which lurk the bigoted measurement masterminds who perpetuate this travesty on unsuspecting youth. 
Unfortunately, the verbal assault kicks into full gear before the evidentiary proceedings reach a similar level. I don’t imagine that many proponents of ETS, or of standardized testing, would have the stomach to read past the first chapter — if they made it through the prefaces and forwards. 
The strength of this book comes in the middle chapters, which poke substantial holes in every conceivable aspect of the development, implementation and use of the SATs to screen college applicants. 
Also unlike the SATs, this book will appeal to multiple intelligences as it uses a variety of forms of evidence, including statistics, stories, logic and expert opinion. 
It includes a compelling story about a cheating lawsuit that leads you to believe that ETS employs defense tactics that would make J. Edgar Hoover blush. The presentation is at times uneven, as exemplified by a weaker treatment of test validity (compared to reliability). Moreover, the bias of this book is so blatant that any true skeptic would be wary of the selective attention that the author likely paid to the entire field of available material.
Marilyn Doerr deserves credit and accolades for bringing this book back to print.  She also has succeeded in bringing some of the book’s arguments and statistics up-to-date without affecting the unabashed spirit of the original volume. 
However, because of this minimalist revision strategy, several recent trends are excluded from consideration. For example, the SATs have come to play a prominent role in rating colleges and universities. The U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings use SATs both directly as one of several measures of selectivity, and indirectly, as one of the ‘controls’ for predicting an institution’s expected graduation rate against which the actual graduation rate is compared. 
Thanks to this kind of rating mentality, there is more pressure on universities and colleges to increase the entering student SAT profile than there is to improve the student learning experience in college. 
Another trend that deserved some attention is the increasing prominence of the ACT entrance exam. This SAT competitor is now running nearly even with the SAT in annual number of test-takers. The ACT claims to be more closely aligned to the high school curriculum, which relates closely to one of the recommendations that Owen makes for improving college entrance screening processes. 
But Owen’s strong arguments against any form of standardized testing make me wonder if  he would view the ACT as a lesser evil, or just as bad.
“None of the Above” is a compelling book. Its strong evidence and mostly well-reasoned conclusions are mitigated only moderately by its rancorous tone. Opponents of standardized testing will applaud this but those who stand to gain the most from this treatise might well be turned off by the approach. 
It is entertaining, if overdone, but leaves us with a significant question: How can the college application screening process be improved so as to motivate student learning in high school and improve the likelihood of student success in college? 
You have twenty minutes to answer the question. Please use a No. 2 pencil and do not go on to the next section of the exam until you are instructed to do so.

— Dr. Victor M.H. Borden is director of information management and institutional research at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

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