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July 23, 2004

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NEWS, JULY 23, 2004 PAGE 11B Siegel realize it or all grown up in How many of enage years were up in thinking for, worry- , and dreading the SAT used the Scholastic Test, but now its the ubiquitous g Service theAp- really an I.Q. iust known by SAT. change, has only be- for our kids. SAThas Part of puberty. hits in 10th the PSAT--the P practice- -and dread when he mail. big test your score? times are you take it? ,Princeton ~tanley Kaplan? your parents .~nd on tutors and As much as the 11 bear. !ny of us remem- "It's the test and the so familiar to 're )art of the not said Nicholas In a recent inter- Jewish Family & he author of The History Meritoc- has written overview of birth, and of the SAT ~s the world it has make. It's a big, g book characters is a fascinating acation seventy years, the rot, affirma- tire action, and the rise of what Lemann calls the meritocracy. Lemann depicts the transformation of higher education from a privilege of a few prep schoo! boys to a basic necessity for the rest of the population. The change is partly due to the loss of a manufacturing base and the rise of the information economy where graduation from high school is no lon- ger adequate, and the desire and drive to go to the "best" college is part of the middle class ethos. Lemann also introduces us to a group of men who played key rolegin changing the notion of who should go to college They include James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard; Henry Chauncey, president of the Educational Testing Service, and Clark Kerr, chancellor of the Univer- sity of California. One of the main tools of this change was the SAT, the intent of which was originally to identify and pluck out intelligent young people who didn't go to the elite prep schools and put them on an Ivy League track. But through the entrepreneur- ship of the ETS and a shared notion of how to measure intelligence, what the SAT has turned into is a yard- stick to determine who gets admitted to which college. "A whole cult has been built around it," says Lemann. "One test helps to sort 16- and 17-year old kids and determine who makes it into college or not and what kind of college--an~ who ultimately succeeds in this society." Once the SAT was estab- lished as a pivotal factor in college admissions, it became clear that students from disadvantaged back- grounds (and in particular many African-Americans) were doing poorly on the test. Rather than take on the variety of social forces that may have contributed to the low scores--poor schools, deteriorating neighborhoods, a difficult home environment--the answer became affirmative action, easing the entrance requirements for people of color in colleges where SAT scores are a determining factor for admissions. One of the strengths of the book is to make the connection between the SAT with the fight over affirmative ac- tion. Lemann worked on The Big Test for seven years. He hadn't planned to make the SAT his focus. "I wanted to write a book about suc- cess and opportunity in the United States I stumbled across the Educational Testing Service as a way to dd it," he said. "It was hid- ing in plain sight like the purloined letter." The fact 16- and 17-year aids' life chances are deter- mined by one test bothers Lemann. "If you make a key moment in life be the moment when you are still incompletely formed, when you are living under your parents' roof, you're in trouble already," he said. What would he suggest to replace the SAT as a way to judge where students stand as they graduate high school and as at least some piece of determining college admission? Since he has made such a strong case against the test as a deter- minant of students' futures, it is rather surprising that Lemann does not advocate eliminating all tests the waY many do in the burgeoning movement against high stakes exams. Instead he suggests that schools establish a national curriculum and as students graduate, they take a national achievement test. Achievement tests as- sess what students should have learned, not what the SAT characterizes as "in- nate ability." In his mind, achievement tests assess the schools as much as they do their students. "It puts the burden on the schools," he said. If the students in a par- ticular school are not doing well, it's clear "the school is not teaching them right and they have to make a change," he said. So before you and your children get caught up in the SAT mania, read The Big Test. It's a fascinating book and will cause you to question some preconceived notions about how higher education and preparation for the larger world should work. Jessica Siegel is a free- lance writer specializing in education issues. She taught English for ten years at SewardPark High School, a large neighborhood high school in New York City. She currently writes for the Harvard Education School Magazine. This article origi- nally appeared in " is pub- lished by the non-profit Jew- ish Family & Life/, which also publishes the journal Sh'ma and JFL Books, in addition to,, www.,, and strives to help families apply Juda- ism and Jewish values to their everyday lives and to be a source of user-friendly, family-oriented informa- tion and entertainment. The organization hopes to provide a Jewish link to families who may not feel comfortable in traditional Jewish orgarlizations. COMPLETE EYE EXAMS BY CERTIFIED OPTOMETRIST 407-644.2211 145 S. 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