Abolish The SAT

So argues, persuasively and surprisingly, Charles Murray here.

Because upper-middle-class families produce most of the smartest kids, there is no way to reform the system (short of disregarding intellectual ability altogether) to prevent their children from coming out on top. We can only make sure that high-ability students from disadvantaged backgrounds realize that the nation’s best colleges yearn for their applications and that their chance of breaking out of their disadvantaged situations has never been better—in short, that the system is not rigged. Now, the widespread belief is that the system is rigged, and the SAT is a major reason for that belief. The most immediate effect of getting rid of the SAT is to remove an extremely large and bright red herring. But there are more good effects.

19 Responses to “Abolish The SAT”


  • Murray’s article actually finds very little wrong with the SAT–he says that it passes statistical scrutiny for racial, gender, and economic discrimination in every case except with African-American students, who, he says, appear to do better on the SAT than their college performances should warrant. Murray doesn’t want to abolish the SAT because it’s flawed. He wants to abolish it because of its perception by many minority groups as a bar to achievement in college.

    While I applaud the idea of making higher education equally available to all, I have to disagree with Murray’s analysis. Removing the SAT (and its competitor, the ACT) from the college admissions process will actually make things much, much worse for the economically disadvantaged.

    At the moment, standardized testing is the only common thread in the application process. If you remove it and put the focus on GPA, teacher recommendations, and other non-standardized indicators, you’ll end up rewarding the people who attend “better” schools–the schools with better parent/teacher communities, more caring teachers, and more active guidance counselors. That means that poorer students will tend to suffer, since they usually attend public schools that have a harder time finding and keeping good faculty members. Meanwhile, students attending public schools in “better” areas, which have an easier time attracting talent and which tend to have much higher levels of community involvement, will be at an advantage, since they’ll have better access to good teaching, higher grades, more convincing recommendations, and more extensive extra curricular involvement. Students at private schools will, in general, have even more of an advantage. Without the SAT around to calibrate the other indicators and keep them honest, the incentive for good schools to fudge GPAs and recommendations will lead to runaway grade inflation for students with better educational access in high school, while poorer students will struggle to overcome the apathy and incompetence so common in America’s worse schools.

    The effects could be catastrophic.

    As it stands now, a student (minority or not) who attends a school in a poorer neighborhood can use the common yardstick of the SAT to show anyone that he has undiscovered potential. With Murray’s changes, that student would have to rely on the luck of connecting with a good teacher or getting good advice from a caring guidance counselor. Anybody familiar with the situation in the trenches of these schools knows that has almost no chance of happening.

    The way to solve the problem of the SAT is to make it easier for anyone, from any background, to score higher on the test. We have to change the perception that the SAT is a test of white socialization (Murray’s analysis shows that it isn’t). We have to let everybody know, from every background, that the SAT can be easily beaten if you prepare for it in the best possible way.

    There’s more to be said about this, of course–I’ve responded to Murray’s article on my own blog at http://www.grammatix.com. I’d welcome any comments to this comment or that blog entry.

    By the way, I love your blog, particularly the articles on economics. Keep up the good work!

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