NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Challengers Again Take On SATs

November 19, 2001

The opposition of Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California system, to the Scholastic Aptitude Tests has revived a long-smoldering debate over the tests' usefulness.

  • SATs measure math and verbal reasoning ability.
  • Critics argue they're a distraction for many high school students and handicap minority students.
  • Yet many institutions, notably in the Ivy League, are reluctant to jettison them.

Rather than eliminating testing altogether, Atkinson wants to replace the main SAT exam with others intended to gauge whether students have mastered subjects such as chemistry and history. As an interim, he wants the California system to rely on the achievement-oriented SAT IIs, administered and written by the College Board and Educational Testing Service, respectively. Atkinson has clout previous reformers didn't: his system has 130,000 undergraduates, and is the College Board's biggest customer.

Still, Atkinson will have his work cut out for him, observers say. The SAT is big business, the test-coaching industry has a stake in its survival, large institutions use the results in their formulas to sort through tens of thousands of applicants and faculty members often praise the SAT -- in no small measure because they themselves did well on it and got into good colleges.

Source: Jacques Steinberg, "Challenge Revives SAT Test Debate," New York Times, November 19, 2001.


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