Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Test Adds to Brouhaha over SAT Introducing Another Prep Test Intensifies Backlash against Use of Scores for College Admissions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Test Adds to Brouhaha over SAT Introducing Another Prep Test Intensifies Backlash against Use of Scores for College Admissions

Article excerpt

The formula for doing well on college-entrance exams used to be a good night's sleep, a hearty breakfast, and a sharp No. 2 pencil.

That was back in the days when the College Board claimed that its SAT measured "aptitude" for college work - and before private prep courses for the test you weren't supposed to be able to cram for became a billion-dollar industry.

Now the nation's top testing coach is bringing its brand of test prep to the classroom. In a "first of its kind" partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Kaplan Learning Services is offering "predictive pre-tests" for the PSAT, SAT and ACT (American College Test). But critics of standardized testing say that such a program feeds what has become a dangerous overreliance on tests as a measure of academic potential, especially harmful to minorities and women. The real need is not to improve test preparation, but to sharply curb the influence of tests in college-admissions decisions, they argue. Opponents of standardized tests insist that such tests are inherently unfair to black and Latino students and should be scrapped; advocates say the need is to better prepare minorities to take the tests. At stake is access to higher education and the high-quality jobs a good education can open up. The new Kaplan test amounts to a pre-test for a pre-test. It will most likely be given in the sophomore year, in time to address student weaknesses before the College Board's pre-test, the PSAT. At $30 a head, the test and its follow-up "customized assessment and feedback" is a bargain for parents, compared with the $600-plus fees charged for private test-prep classes. For high school principals, a partnership with top testing coaches may also help avoid emergency meetings with anxious parents or real estate agents, after a dip in SAT scores sends student admission prospects and local housing values tumbling. "We see a future world with much more testing in it. Most schools are not equipped to explain test results. Teachers need to learn how these tests work," says Seppy Basili, Kaplan's director of college programs. For many American schoolteachers, the notion of teaching to a test has long been anathema. Some 78 percent of education professors in a recent survey described standardized tests as a "serious folly" and said that they wanted less reliance on them. Colleges opt out of tests But the latest assault against high-stakes, fill-in-the-bubble exams was set off by recent state decisions to abandon affirmative action in college admissions. Minority enrollment fell off sharply in the University of California system, after that state's board of regents voted to ban racial preferences in admissions in 1995. Last fall, California voters backed a statewide ban on government affirmative-action programs, and similar votes are pending in 26 other states. In a bid to avoid a falloff in minority enrollments after its own court decision voiding affirmative action, Texas opted in May to end test-score requirements for in-state students. …

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