Should SATs Matter?

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The campus of the University of California at Berkeley

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Daniel's contention is right and explains why no admissions scheme can be totally equitable. Some reformers say Florida and Texas come closest. By law, the public universities in those states must offer admission to all who graduate in the top 20% (Florida) or 10% (Texas) of their class, no matter how poor their high school. Public universities in both states still use SATs, however — Florida to sort out which kids will go to the larger, more presitigious colleges, Texas to decide who needs retention programs.

Of course, Florida and Texas lawmakers weren't attacking the SAT itself. They wanted to maintain diverse campuses even though affirmative action had been banned in their states. Conservatives suspect U.C.'s Atkinson has the same motive. Those who favor affirmative action have long wanted to ignore SAT scores, says Ward Connerly, a U.C. regent and anti-affirmative-action activist. (Atkinson has said he wasn't motivated by race.) Connerly believes moving away from standard measures like the SAT will mean colleges lose their fundamental goal of academic excellence. "Looking at a student's potential and the adversity they've overcome — what I call the Academic Misery Index — has the potential of totally reforming college," he says, turning campuses into institutions that value diversity and community service over learning.

High schools are changing too. Baby boomer parents have started movements against homework, stringent graduation requirements, class rankings; it's as though they believe their children should never have to suffer the indignity of being evaluated. Pity those kids when they get their first job. Last month Laila Kouri, 16, reflected on the SAT as she sat through an expensive coaching class in ritzy Westport, Conn. "I know people who blow off classes, are failing school and walk into the SAT and get a 1200 the first time," she sighed. "How can this be a fair test?" Well, as Kouri has learned: no one ever said life's tests were fair.

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