A Viewpoint on Testocracy, K-12 Curriculum and The College Board

A Viewpoint on Testocracy, K-12 Curriculum and The College Board

teach test buttonIn the past few days there has been a flurry of discussion over the SAT, partly driven by a newly released book The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education In America, by Lani Guinier, who was the first woman of color appointed as a tenured professor at Harvard Law School, in 1998. And in a funny juxtaposition, The College Board released sample questions to its upcoming new PSAT/SAT, scheduled to be released in fall 2015 (PSAT) and spring 2016 (SAT).

This weekend, a very intriguing excerpt from Guinier’s book was released on Salon.com. In this excerpt, Guinier continues the debate of the value of the SAT in predicting college success, its correlation to race and income, and provides an interesting history of how the test came to be. From a historical standpoint, you may have heard the SAT originally stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, changed to Scholastic Assessment Test, and currently stands for SAT Reasoning Test. We’ve come to assume the SAT is a measure of “smartness”, but it was intended to be a predictor of first year college grades. As Guinier proves, the correlation to first year grades is very minor and questions the value of predicting just one year’s grade – what about the other 3 years? Guinier argues the SAT is more a predictor of wealth than of potential, as best demonstrated by The College Board’s own data released in 2013 that proves SAT scores improve with increases in family income, referred to by Guinier as the “Volvo effect”.

Regardless of its questionable predictiveness for college grades, it seems many years ago, schools began catering K-12 curriculum for better SAT preparedness to help ensure admittance to top universities. There in lies the initial seeds of the connection between The College Board, testocracy, and K-12 education system, which continue to take root more deeply today than ever before. And also why it seems an eerie coincidence that just as Guinier’s book is released, The College Board also released sample questions to its new PSAT and SAT tests and included these statements:

“The redesigned SAT will be the anchor of a system of assessments that are aligned across a continuum of knowledge and skills. The assessments are designed to monitor student growth across grades annually. For the first time, all scores from PSAT™ 8/9, PSAT™ 10, PSAT/NMSQT, and the SAT will be on the same score scale. This will enable students and educators to track student growth toward college and career readiness and identify areas that need strengthening. This feedback will help both students and educators engage in the best possible practice for future exams: rigorous classroom work and instruction.”

Do you see the clues and connection to the concerns Guinier pointed out…..”assessments”, “monitor student growth”, “enable students and educators to track student growth toward college”, PSAT tests starting in 8th grade…..it feels like The College Board has branched too far. When did the goal of our education system be to perform well on the SAT?



Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.