Wednesday, April 2, 2014

There are valid reasons to be concerned about the SAT, starting with its history

Given the dust and confusion being kicked up by the SAT, there's a point that I want to get on the record. Though the standard critiques of the SAT, most notably from the New York Times are flawed in almost every particular (except about the essay section, which pretty much everyone now agrees was a train wreck), there are valid critiques of the test, both in its current state and in where it came from.

From Wikipedia:
After the war in 1920, Brigham joined Princeton as a faculty member, and he collaborated with Robert Yerkes' from the Army Mental Tests and published their results in the influential 1923 book, A Study of American Intelligence authored by Brigham with the forward by Yerkes. Analyzing the data from the Army tests, Brigham came to the conclusion that native born Americans had the highest intelligence out of the groups tested. He proclaimed the intellectual superiority of the "Nordic Race" and the inferiority of the "Alpine" (Eastern European) and "Mediterranean Races" and argued that immigration should be carefully controlled to safeguard the "American Intelligence." Nothing troubled Brigham so much however, as miscegenation between blacks and whites, as Brigham believed "Negroes" were by far the most intellectually inferior race.
Though he later in 1930 denounced his expressed views on the intellectual superiority of the "Nordic Race" and specifically disowned the book, it had already been instrumental in fueling anti-immigrant sentiment in America and the eugenics debate. It was used most effectively by Harry Laughlin in the 1924 congressional debates leading to anti-immigrant legislation. 
Brigham chaired the College Board commission from 1923 to 1926, leading to the creation of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, now simply called the SAT Reasoning Test.
One of the hidden costs of bad arguments dominating one side of a debate is that they tend to crowd out the valid arguments on that side. I haven't seen convincing evidence that the SAT is being over-emphasized in the college selection process or that, other than the essay section, the test was urgently in need of radical changes, but there serious and precedented concerns with the way the test can be misused.

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