(October 9, 2002) Hear the audio version

This Saturday my daughter will be one of thousands of Bay Area high school seniors sitting down to take a three-hour test that may very well determine where they will go to college. The SAT is alive and well and influential as ever, even after the University of California threatened to drop it. That probably won’t happen, because the College Board, which owns, operates, and promotes the SAT, not wanting to lose the largest single recipient of SAT scores, listened to UC System President Atkinson’s criticisms and will be eliminating analogies and adding a writing sample for students beginning with the high school class of 2006 – plenty of time, the Princeton Review boasts, to develop a test-prep curriculum.

The SAT is like socialism – fine in theory, not so good in practice. I can understand why college admissions officers would like to know how well their applicants perform on a standard test taken by all students. Fair enough. But the reality is that the SAT is not fair, and I’m not just talking about the test questions themselves, which have been criticized as biased. I’m referring to access-access to pricey test-prep classes that teach the “secrets” of the SAT, or to the wide variety of “services” offered by the College Board. Want to see your scores a week early? That’ll be $13 – have a major credit card handy. Need to rush your scores to colleges and scholarship programs in time to meet fall deadlines? That’ll be $20, plus $6.50 for each report. Think the computer made a mistake scoring your test? (You mean that’s a possibility???) Fork over $25 for to have it hand-scored. You can also pay $12 to see a copy of the test you took – helpful before taking another $26 SAT.

But you’d better sign up early, or risk being assigned to a test center 20 or 30 miles from home. While you’re at it, hope you don’t get a proctor like my daughter had last spring, who didn’t explain the instructions and told one girl to take the test while perched on a stool. That is not fair.

I applaud the growing list of colleges and universities that have made the SAT optional. I hope the University of California continues to consider it, or at least give more weight to fairer measures of aptitude and potential.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.