Confessions of a Former SAT Hater

standardized tests
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high school furniture 1 180x300 Confessions of a Former SAT Hater

 Ask a progressive educator about standardized tests, and more often than not you will receive a negative response. Ask more specifically about the SATs, and you will receive similar feedback. Many teachers assume that the SATs are the epitome of the folly of standardized testing. They will tell you that colleges and students would be better off if the SATs were completely abandoned in favor of other methods of evaluation.


 I myself have been a proud standardized test hater for quite some time now.  If asked for my opinion, I would happily share with you my thoughts on the educational irrelevance – and even harm – of such exams. I would confidently let you know that most standardized tests are skewed in favor of higher socio-economic brackets, or perhaps against ethnic minorities. The SATs and other standardized tests are fundamentally flawed, I would pontificate. And anyone who cares to argue is probably an antiquated relic of decades past, a teacher stuck in his ways, unenlightened and obtuse.


Until last week, that is. Last week, everything changed. Two professors of psychology, David Z. Hambrick and Christopher Chabris, published a fascinating article in Slate , which challenges many of the assumptions of the conventional wisdom about standardized tests in general, and the SATs in particular. As they present the issue, there are two common critiques of the SATs: they are poor indicators of future success, and they are unfairly favorable to students from higher socio-economic backgrounds. In response, Hambrick and Chabris argue that the SATs are in fact a reasonably accurate indicator of future academic and professional success, and that the SATs are not significantly skewed in favor of higher socio-economic classes.


In great detail, the authors summarize the findings of a number of studies which indicate that the SATs have been shown to correlate with subsequent academic success. SAT scores correlated both with cumulative GPA as well as probability of matriculation. These conclusions are the result of formal studies that have been undertaken to assess the efficacy of the SATs. They are not anecdotal nor are they conjecture. The evidence is there for those who wish to study it.


Similarly, the professors demonstrate that socio-economic advantage is not an immensely influential factor in test outcomes. Preparatory courses tend not to make such a big difference, and many kids from less affluent communities also excel on the exam. In fact, for some, it is truly a lifeline to showcase their skills and aptitude despite the weak schools they have attended.


By presenting hard data in defense of their position, Hambrick and Chabris have forced me to rethink my own views. I would imagine that one could marshal counter-evidence and maintain an anti-SAT position.  However, though I certainly have not completely abandoned my aversion for standardized tests, this article has at the very least led me to reassess my own assumptions. In a more general sense, it’s a good reminder to constantly check our educational perspectives and attitudes, and to ask ourselves: are my views consistent with the data? Keeping an open mind and developing evidence-based views are key components of professional and personal growth; regardless of one’s view on the SATs, that is certainly something we can all agree upon.

2 Responses to Confessions of a Former SAT Hater

  1. Dr. Randl J. Spear says:

    I am curious to know if anyone has seriously compared the work of Dr. Howard Gardner’s Frame of Mind with their own observations of standardized tests and true student potential. I like the summary Dr. Gardner makes: “It’s not how smart you are; but, how are you smart!” His work had originally identified 12 intelligences, which I understand now has grown to a list of over 20. Any comments from personal experiences?

    • Noam says:

      Thanks Dr. Spear for your comment. I too would be interested in hearing if anyone has any personal experiences to share.

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