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SAT stifles imagination, dehumanizes students

The human imagination is perhaps the most powerful instrument in the universe. The ancient Greeks imagined men and women flying through the empyrean and now, a few ticks of the galactic clock later, men and women are living on the space station, walking on the Moon and getting ready to sail out to the planets.

The wonders of today's imaginations can become the mundane reality of the future. As an educator, I know that the road to the future will be paved with the bricks of the imagination.

Students and their teachers need opportunities to travel that road. In an age of dazzling special effects in movies and television programs, the imaginative vision is too often abdicated to a director or an actor. Something is lost when we fail to take part in the creative dialogue true learning demands.

By reading and writing from an imaginative perspective, the mind is pushed and prodded in complex ways. The imagination can open doors that for many students have been locked. One big door, heavily chained and padlocked, is labeled Educational Testing "Service."

Not long ago, my high school juniors took the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) to prepare for the rigors of the SAT, which they will tackle later this year. They will wrestle with vocabulary words like lugubrious, penultimate and fondue. They will answer multiple choice questions. All this gets translated into a number, one that will go a long way in determining their future educational path. As a teacher, I'm fed up with the SAT and all of its brethren. Here's why:

* Money. Money. Money. About 1.5 million students will sign up to take the exam next year. They will be encouraged to take it several times at $45 a pop. Many will pay hundreds of dollars for prep courses, books, electronic gadgets and Web sites. It's the biggest game of brinkmanship and tomfoolery of the millennia (three SAT words).

* Well-rounded students will begin to see themselves as numbers. "I'm a 1400. What are you?" Even George Orwell would shudder.

* The PSAT continues to test writing without writing -- 39 easy scan multiple choice questions will do the trick.

* The test does more to kill the imagination and love of language than all the video games, movies and Web bloggers combined. When Hamlet asked profoundly, "To be or not to be," not a single one of these words ever appeared on an SAT vocabulary list. There's very little appreciation for nuance or the pure beauty of an apt expression.

* It's dehumanizing and undemocratic. Most colleges claim they look at the student's entire application, but there is no denying that undue pressure has been placed to score high on the SAT. Scholarships routinely list acceptable SAT scores as a benchmark.

* Where's the imagination section? It's not on the new writing section that expects students to produce a well-developed essay in 25 minutes. No time for planning, revision or editing, which every competent writer requires.

The SAT fears the imagination. It's unpredictable and hard to control. There are no standards to measure the imagination, no multiple choice questions to scan it -- nor should there be.

The imagination can't grow in a restricted arena. It requires freedom, patience and enthusiasm. Time spent on the SAT is time away from the imagination and one less brick in the road to the future.

Tom O'Malley, a teacher who lives in Buffalo, believes schools are placing too much emphasis on the SAT.

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