Preparing for the SAT is big business these days. Kids who can't afford the $1,000 plus are losing out because their scores aren't pushed up by these special classes.
Some colleges are wanting to raise their minimum for the SAT. Others want to lower it.
The truth is that SAT scores go higher if your family makes lots of money. If you are poor, your chances of making a really good score are pretty minimal.
To give you a professor's point of view (and this is just me, I'm not speaking for others or even for UH) it is attitude that counts. You don't have to be an Einstein to be a great student. I say you can be a great student if you really try, if you care, if you turn your work in on time, if you make a big effort, if you are engaged in class, do your assignments, follow directions, make it to all your classes* and take learning seriously.
Admissions group urges colleges to 'assume control' of debate on testingChronicle of Higher EducationBy ERIC HOOVERWith just a few words, William R. Fitzsimmons could start a revolution. He is, after all, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University.Imagine if he announces one day that his office no longer requires applicants to submit standardized-test scores. Within weeks Harvard's competitors go test-optional, too. Soon less-selective institutions do the same. College admissions is transformed, and high-school students everywhere rejoice.At least that's what happens in the daydream shared by some testing critics. Reality, however, looks a lot different. ACT and SAT exams support a complex ecosystem in which colleges' needs vary according to size, mission, and selectivity. Even Harvard cannot change that.Still, people listen to what Mr. Fitzsimmons says. And this week, he plans to say a lot about tests.Last year the National Association for College Admission Counseling asked Mr. Fitzsimmons to lead a panel that would examine testing issues and recommend how colleges might better use entrance exams. The dean and his fellow panelists were to present their findings this week at the association's annual conference, in Seattle.Nacac gave The Chronicle an early look at the long-awaited report, which stops well short of condemning admissions tests. Nonetheless, it delivers the association's strongest statement to date on one of higher education's most controversial issues. It affirms that colleges and other interested parties have overinflated both the real and the perceived importance of the exams — and proposes how to let some of that air out.The report urges colleges to regularly scrutinize their testing requirements, to stop using minimum scores for scholarships, and to ensure that admissions policies account for inequities among applicants, including access to test preparation. Moreover, it anticipates a future when admissions tests better reflect what students learn in high school."We want to get the word out more clearly than before that tests should not be used in a rigid way," Mr. Fitzsimmons says. "A couple decades ago, people associated testing results with so-called ability. We have come to a clearer understanding that those scores have more to do with opportunities."'Center of Gravity'Creating the 58-page report was a test itself. The 21-member panel, the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission, included admissions deans from an array of institutions, such as Central Lakes College, in Minnesota; Georgetown University; and the University of Connecticut."The challenge was to find a center of gravity," says David A. Hawkins, Nacac's director of public policy and research. "We were looking to the collective wisdom of colleges, which have their own proprietary interests and are not always consistent."High-school counselors, independent consultants, and education-policy experts rounded out the panel, which met four times and communicated frequently via e-mail. Mr. Hawkins had the unenviable task of synthesizing more than 20 hours of notes with the panelists' written contributions.The commission crafted recommendations that echoed the association's big-tent spirit. "We were realistic," says Mr. Hawkins. "We weren't going to tell people to abolish tests or that they were the greatest thing since sliced bread."The report does encourage more colleges to consider dropping their test requirement if they find that they can make appropriate admissions decisions without the ACT and SAT.Each college, the report says, should use its own validity studies to judge whether the tests have enough predictive value to justify their use. Admissions offices should not rely only on national data compiled by testing companies — or on tradition.The panel encourages Nacac to become an "unaffiliated clearinghouse" of testing information. It recommends that the association create a program to train admissions officials in the ethics and standards of testing. It also asks Nacac to create a way for colleges to share testing research, and to annually publish sample validity studies of the ACT and SAT.Judgments of the value of such statistics, however, often divided the committee. All members agreed that test scores reliably predict freshman-year grades, but some said that did not justify requiring the tests.Steven T. Syverson urged his fellow panelists to reach a broader definition of success in college. "We need to start paying better attention to our language," says Mr. Syverson, vice president for enrollment at Lawrence University, in Wisconsin, which does not require standardized-test scores. "Success isn't a grade-point average. I've got lots of students who get C's but who have a fabulous college experience. They develop social skills and leadership skills. Being a good citizen is a successful outcome."Randall C. Deike agrees. Even so, he brought a more practical view of tests to the discussion.Vice president for enrollment at Case Western Reserve University, Mr. Deike holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology. He believes that the ACT and SAT are solid tests that help admissions officials do their jobs, especially at large universities with waves of applicants. He repeatedly told the commission not to discount the statistical significance of the exams."Why," he recalls asking, "would you throw away good information?"Mr. Fitzsimmons, the chairman, dubbed Mr. Deike "the canary in the coal mine." When panelists proposed language that struck him as too critical of tests, he would speak up and try to steer them to more-inclusive recommendations.In the spirit of collaboration, Mr. Deike ended up writing a key passage in the report that encourages more colleges to at least explore the possibility of going test-optional. But he remains unconvinced that such a move is advisable for many. "Too often standardized testing is condemned," he says, "when it's really test misuse that's at issue."Beyond NumbersThe report takes gentle swipes at several third parties for "possible misuses" of test scores. It urges the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to stop using minimum PSAT scores as a requirement for its awards. It questions why the College Board "appears to condone" that practice. The report also criticizes the use of test scores in U.S. News & World Report's college rankings as well as in college-bond ratings.The booming test-preparation industry prompted a vigorous debate among panelists. Some participants say they had hoped that the report would dismiss test prep's value to students. Others, however, argued that the issue looms too large in students' lives to reduce to a short statement. They wanted the report to confront the complexity of what they see: that test prep benefits some applicants but not all."I'm not against preparing for tests, but there's now an obsessive compulsion to get the best scores you can," says Marybeth Kravets, a counselor at Deerfield High School, a public school in Illinois. "Therein lies the inequity — those who can afford it can better prepare themselves."The commission concluded that while test prep is inevitable, its effects remain too mysterious. Could it add 30 points to a student's SAT score, or 100? What distinguishes good prep from bad?Citing a dearth of independent research, the commission called for further study of the effects of coaching. Nacac has already commissioned a white paper on the topic.Meanwhile, the report said colleges "have a unique responsibility to mitigate the inequitable effects of test preparation." Admissions staffs that compile applicants' grades and test scores into an "academic index" number, the report says, should remain flexible enough to consider those effects.Notably, the report does not offer recommendations to the largest constituency of all — test takers. Students and parents, of course, have not been passive participants in the testing frenzy. Like politics, the ACT and SAT are things that Americans love to hate.But in a world where grades are final, tests are seductive because they offer an apparent second (or third or fourth) chance to improve. That speaks to something larger than admissions policies."If you did away with the current tests, something would replace them," says Mr. Deike. "As human beings and as a society, we want to quantify everything."'A Contextual Animal'Among its recommendations, the panel also poses a philosophical challenge. Colleges, it says, must "assume control of the conversation" about tests.Jeff Rickey believes colleges have relinquished that control to several players — test companies, test-preparation services, and the media. Like other panelists, he insists that test scores are not the ultimate determinants of admissions outcomes. "There's a lot of anxiety that comes from mischaracterizations of the importance of admissions testing," says Mr. Rickey, dean of admissions and financial aid at Earlham College, in Indiana. "We have, as a profession, neglected stewardship of this conversation."When Mr. Rickey meets with parents and students, he gives them a number — 12.5 percent. That's how much an applicant's ACT or SAT score counts in Earlham's overall evaluation. Grades and the rigor of courses, the dean tells applicants, count for much more.Transparency was one theme Mr. Rickey hoped the commission would embrace. In various places, it did. The report urges colleges "to think and communicate clearly, independently, and progressively" about how they use tests.The trick, of course, is that not all colleges can quantify, or succinctly describe, the role that tests play in admissions. Evaluations may differ in significant ways."A test score is a contextual animal, not a line in the sand," says Philip A. Ballinger, director of admissions at the University of Washington, which replaced its academic index with an individualized review process in 2005.Perhaps the greatest challenge the panel faced was nuance. Although testing is a high-voltage debate, few admissions officials believe that tests are entirely good or bad.Mr. Ballinger exemplifies that ambiguity. Known as one of the most thoughtful practitioners in his field, he has described admissions tests, which disproportionately benefit wealthier applicants, as "an exclusionary engine." Yet he also believes they can help colleges serve their students.Like many universities, Washington uses test scores to place students in courses and to connect them to tutoring. A first-generation student who earned A's and B's in her high-school literature classes, Mr. Ballinger says, may be well prepared for college. But a low score on the SAT's critical-reading section might indicate that she needs some extra help."I hoped we could recognize that test scores are not just a pinpoint of data but a symbolic tool, a tool of communication, a political tool, a public-relations tool," Mr. Ballinger says. "I think we've done that."A Future Course?Perhaps the last thing the sagging shelves of academe need is another report. Although comprehensive, the commission's report is not groundbreaking. It echoes previous findings, including several conclusions in "Myths & Tradeoffs: The Role of Tests in Undergraduate Admissions," a 1999 report by the National Research Council.Yet Susan K. Tree is eager to see Nacac's new report, which she believes will make a long-overdue statement. Ms. Tree is director of college counseling at Westtown High School, a private school in Pennsylvania. She served as chairwoman of a previous Nacac commission on standardized tests, which issued a report in 1995. Her research convinced her that many admissions professionals knew too little about tests, such as what they do and do not measure. She suspects that is still the case on many campuses.Over the years, Ms. Tree has asked why Harvard and other elite institutions, with more than enough high-scoring applicants, cling to the ACT and SAT. "The colleges that could best afford to do away with them," she says, "are obsessed with them."In Harvard's admissions office, it rains valedictorians. Last year the middle 50 percent of its freshmen scored between 1400 and 1590 (out of a possible 1600) on the SAT's mathematics and critical-reading sections. On average, the nation's four-year colleges accept nearly 70 percent of their applicants. This spring Harvard accepted 7 percent.Such numbers represent what Mr. Fitzsimmons, the Harvard dean, has called "the lunatic fringe," where there is little variance among the scores of competitive applicants.Even so, he says, standardized-test scores help his staff evaluate students' transcripts. For one thing, they help ease concerns about grade inflation. "We want to give people as many opportunities as possible to show what they can do, particularly when we don't know everything about their high schools," he says.Over the past year, Mr. Fitzsimmons has scribbled note after note to himself about testing. Many linear feet of folders — full of clippings, studies, and data — have piled up in his office. Fellow panelists say that the dean strove to put his Harvard hat aside, that he wanted the report to speak forcefully to all of higher education.Mr. Fitzsimmons is not exactly neutral on tests, though. Unlike most colleges, Harvard requires a battery of exams: the ACT or SAT, and three College Board Subject Tests.The latter better predict students' performance at Harvard than the ACT and SAT do. Mr. Fitzsimmons believes the Subject Tests also send a healthy signal to students. "The message is that students succeed by studying the material in their courses," he says, "not by spending an enormous amount of time trying to prepare for the ACT and SAT."The commission's report concludes with an endorsement of achievement tests, which some panelists hope will one day supplant the ACT and SAT. By using state achievement tests, the College Board's Subject Tests, or International Baccalaureate exams, the report says, "colleges would create a powerful incentive for American high schools to improve their curricula and their teaching. They would lose little or none of the information they need to make good choices about entering classes."Nicholas Lemann draws a similar conclusion in his book The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, which traces the history of the SAT (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999). "In a perfect world, high-school curriculum standards would link up with college-admissions placement decisions," says Mr. Lemann, dean of Columbia University's journalism school and a member of Nacac's testing commission. "There needs to be a shift in tone from aptitude to achievement."That idea contradicts the thinking of the late James Bryant Conant, who did much to popularize the SAT in the mid-20th century. He believed that traditional subject-based exams ill served students who lacked the means to attend boarding schools. He endorsed the SAT — which at the time was viewed as a pure measure of intelligence — as a way to level the field for applicants."Subject-matter examinations were of slight value," Mr. Conant wrote in My Several Lives: Memoirs of a Social Inventor (Harper & Row, 1970). "The aptitude, not the schooling, was what counted."What gave him the authority to decide what counted? For one thing, he spent 20 years as president of Harvard.http://chronicle.comSection: StudentsVolume 55, Issue 5, Page A1
*don't miss class so you can take your cat to the vet
Judge Sotomayor was one of those students who had the "attitude" -- she really tried, worked hard, and excelled. That is what counts