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Countdown to College: SAT is the test everyone loves to hate

The New York Times magazine story led with the following graphic: The SAT is hated by: A. Stressed-Out Students; B. Frustrated Educators; C. Hamstrung Admissions Officers, D. Anxious Parents and a bubbled in E. “All of the Above.”

The SAT is gearing up for a major overhaul, but why?

College Board’s explanation for the upcoming changes is that its mission is for the test to continually stay relevant.

One doesn’t need to dig too deeply to see through this thinly veiled rationale and understand that this was a simple business decision. The SAT had been the dominant standardized test for college admission. But over the past decade, it has been steadily losing market share to the ACT. The ACT has long been favored in the central U.S., while the SAT controlled both the East and West coasts.

It is not surprising that many of the changes to the SAT, such as making the essay optional and eliminating deductions for incorrect responses, make it more similar to the ACT.

“The changes recently announced by the College Board to its SAT college entrance exam bring to mind the familiar phrase ‘too little, too late,’ ” said Bard College President Leo Botstein. “The alleged improvements are motivated not by any serious soul searching about the SAT but by the competition the College Board has experienced from its arch rival, the ACT, the other major purveyor of standardized college entrance exams.”

The rational for both the SAT and the ACT has been that these standardized tests are supposed to predict academic achievement in college. Many college admissions professionals, high school counselors and even some parents and some high-scoring students would argue that the tests level the playing field and test natural intelligence.

Many others would say that taking a single test on a single day is not a good indicator of future performance.

This is not a new discussion. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing, has been championing the anti-standardized test position for years and now lists more than 800 colleges on its website that have chosen to be “test-optional.”

Botstein continues railing on standardized testing: “It is part hoax and part fraud, albeit a profitable one. The College Board, however, is not entirely to blame. David Coleman (president of College Board) is to be admired for trying to rescue an outdated, sinking ship. The real responsibility for our sorry state of affairs regarding college entrance examinations rests with our college and universities themselves.

“The elite institutions have willingly supported an alliance with the College Board to make their own lives easier, and we Americans seem to have accepted this owing to our misplaced love affair with standardized testing and ranking as the proper means to ensure educational excellence.”

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website at