My friend’s younger sister will soon make her decisions about where to apply for college. It doesn’t feel like that long ago (although it was) when I stumbled across this article in the New York Times about students who were arrested for being paid to take someone’s SAT. Even now, issues about standardized testing resonate with me. This piece strengthened my conviction that the pressures surrounding college admissions are beyond anything our parents could imagine. The requirements for applying to–let alone being admitted to–top schools have gotten so steep that now it’s not just Type A’s who complain. And, as we all know, kids whose parents are well-off and have a reputation to uphold are expected to look impressive on paper. While money is still an influence in getting into a desired school, it doesn’t necessarily have as much pull as grades do. At the end of the day, though, I’m more concerned about why “average Joe” teens are panicking.
College names are looked at more than we care to admit in a society obsessed with the idea of careers; taking the SAT seriously is drilled into you from the moment you start ninth grade. It’s no wonder that certain kids are more susceptible to desperate measures. Now, I’m far from an analyst or educational expert, but one way to look at the inequalities and difficulties inherent in the SAT is to examine it from the perspective of language. I think my biggest pet peeve is the fact that the SAT emphasizes having a textbook vocabulary as essential. The message becomes: memorize these fancy things and you’ll be super savvy in whatever you do. Having access to both sophisticated and commonplace words to use in your communications is a good thing, yes, but let’s be honest. College classes, even English classes, are increasingly encouraging students to use clear and accessible language for their intended audience. This really calls for a different set of skills–for judgment on how to best manipulate language. There’s also the simple truth that kids from underprivileged high schools or financial backgrounds are going to have a harder time maneuvering vocabulary-driven sections of the test. This is reflected in how students approach their written essays, too. Personally, I think that reading comprehension stuff should be more of a concern for College Board test designers.