The SAT Could Use Some Revision


Austin W. So's letter to the editor in the May 21 Crimson misses the point of SAT biases in general and, even worse, demonstrates the lack of critical skepticism characteristic of those who have been suckered into believing the myth of the "American Dream."

This myth preaches that the individual in America is all-powerful; s/he can do anything, accomplish anything, no matter what the odds are, if s/he is good enough, smart enough to learn the ropes. No one ever remembers that luck plays an incredibly large role in all this.

The SAT is not the real problem; So is correct there. The SAT is but one symptom of a much larger societal shutout of certain minority groups. Racial and class bias in the SAT is only one example.

There is no such thing as an inherently bias-free standard of academic achievement. Every standard we erect will reflect some particular set of values and criteria which is shared by some groups and not by others.

Austin's answer to the question "Why are Latino and African American students, on average, below average?" is that the communities they live in do not respect the ideal of education, unlike their Jewish and Asian American counterparts. Why would they not respect education? Is it education per se or the educational systems that they perceive cannot serve them? Why do adolescent Latino and African American students have so little confidence in the education they receive? Is it because they are not good enough as individuals and as a group to succeed in schools, or is it because they perceive that the education they have received has not proved itself at all relevant of useful to the lives they lead?


Educational programs like the ones So mentioned, involving volunteer students from prestigious high schools going to inner-city schools, do not address the real problems any more than SAT revision. They help a very specific minority of "promising" students while ignoring the majority who will never get the same chances.

Even worse, this minority of achievers will then be used to shame the majority, to say, "See, the system works. It's your fault you can't make it." The minority of overachieving Asian Americans is a case in point. Not only do the media, the educational system and politicians use us to shame other minority groups, we also get used to shame our own less successful peers in the Asian American community. There is nothing positive about the stereotype. It breeds resentment and division, disillusionment and resignation.

So's answer to a biased SAT is to familiarize those who are not familiar with the biased contents, so that they can do as well as those for whom the test was designed. But what is the purpose of the SAT in the first place? If its purpose is to test a basic level of knowledge, who is to decide what that should be?

Right now the powers-that-be seem to consist of Allan Bloom supporters who believe that the standard of American excellence is the canon of white American history, literature and culture. Why should anyone accept this kind of standard, which creates SAT analogies like "'dividends is to shareholders' and 'checkmate is to chess?'" The debate has raged back and forth among educators and policy makers for many years now. The conclusion that they have come to is that a change in the content of the SAT is necessary and beneficial. It will help more than it will hinder.

Changing the SAT is not enough. However it is one step among many that the American educational system must take to finally accept accountability for institutional blindness and bias when it comes to the education and evaluation of minority students and to do something substantive about it. Yu Wong '94