The College Board has announced that they are revamping the SAT. Once called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, SAT now stands for nothing.
The SAT used to be an almost-perfect IQ test, and until 1995 it did the job so well that a high score was accepted by Mensa, the high-IQ society. It measured aptitude, not the ability to work hard, nor kindness, nor collegiality, nor a host of other factors that go into making one a success in life or in college.
But the fact remains that all other things being equal someone with a high IQ is going to outperform someone with a low IQ. All other things being equal, a student with a high SAT score will outperform a student with a low SAT score. The best predictor of college success isn't high school grades alone, nor entrance examinations alone, but grades and exam scores used in tandem. Work ethic matters. A good work ethic combined with an above-average IQ matters even more.
Americans hate the notion of IQ, particularly when expressed in its two-letter formulation. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently gushed all over the pages of his newspaper with praise for comments made by a Google executive, who said his company no longer used IQ in the hiring process and now hired primarily based on cognitive ability. Friedman saw this as a wonderful change.
Is Friedman, who is supposed to be an American opinion-shaper, too dull to understand that IQ and "cognitive ability" are exact synonyms? If this executive had declared that "Our employees no longer drive trucks to work; they now use pick-ups," would Friedman have the sense to understand that the man was speaking complete gibberish?
Back to the SAT. The idea of changes made back in 1994 and 2005 were designed to muffle the test as a measure of mere IQ and to reward those students who work hard mastering certain skills. The thought was that this would reward hard-working students with lower IQs at the expense of high-IQ slackers. It hasn't worked out that way.
A test which rewards hard work is going to help high-IQ students who work the hardest. Thus Asians, whose propensity for academic work is no secret, have tended to do quite well on the SAT. Highly intelligent students from a non-competitive academic environment have fared poorly. By attempting to measure hard work rather than merely IQ the makers of the SAT actually skewed it further in favor of the brightest students from the best high schools.
The College Board claims that the changes to the SAT are designed to more closely align the test with current schoolwork. In reality the changes will likely increase the importance of IQ as a determining factor of SAT success.
That's essentially the only two choices these test-makers have. They can test achievement and hard work and the winners will be those bright students who prepare the most. Or they can just test IQ and include some kids without a great work ethic or without access to a quality school.
In the end, achievement is the handmaiden of intelligence. Changing the SAT will alter scores a bit, but the final message is going to be one that society simply does not want to hear:
Some students are smarter than others, some students will work harder than others, students who prepare for any type of test will outperform those who don't, and some students will do well on virtually any test designed to measure intelligence or achievement.
The College Board can change the SAT, but insofar as outcomes are concerned, little will change.
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