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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

March 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Anxious about the SAT? More colleges say ‘don’t worry about it’

Almost anyone who has applied to college can trot out a horror story about the much-dreaded Scholastic Aptitude Test, better known as the SAT. The four-hour, fill-in-the-bubble test of math and reading skills has spawned innumerable opinion pieces, diatribes and nightmares.

There’s even a book, The Perfect Score Project, by Debbie Stier, a single mom and public relations professional who took the exam seven times (surely an exercise in masochism), trying to achieve a perfect 2400. Stier’s book is filled with tips for improving student scores, most of which boil down to one unsurprising adage: Study more.

Yet anyone who has flipped through an SAT-prep booklet knows there are easy strategies for gaming the test — techniques that can dramatically improve one’s score, as described here, by Education Lab opinion columnist Dennis McDuffie, a high school senior in Richland, Wash.

Likewise, educators across the country insist that the SAT is a poor measure of student aptitude or likely college success — a backlash that gained more credence after a recent SAT-overhaul by the College Board, which is trying to better align it with classroom curricula.

“By what cosmic law does the SAT have to remain the gatekeeper of college admissions?” railed Bronx high school teacher Ilana Garon in an op-ed. Many of her best students perform poorly on the test, so rather than trying to mitigate its irrelevance, she asked, why not just dump it?

Here’s some good news in that direction: FairTest, a Massachusetts nonprofit, has published a list of 800 colleges and universities that make SAT scores optional for admission, or ignore them completely. Same goes for the ACT exam. Some schools on the list exempt students from reporting these scores if they meet certain grade-point or class-rank criteria. Others require scores only for placement purposes or to conduct research studies.

There are some pretty fancy names on this roster — private liberal arts colleges like Bard, Middlebury and Bryn Mawr, as well as highly-regarded art and cooking schools, Washington State University and most of the California State University system.

It’s information that may be of interest to students who do not test well, not to mention their parents.

Comments | More in News | Topics: higher ed, SAT, standardized tests

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