Mills: SAT scandal shows tyranny of standardized testing
Samuel Eshaghoff of Great Neck, New York, is arrested in September for impersonating high school students to take the SAT.
November 28th, 2011
12:18 PM ET

Mills: SAT scandal shows tyranny of standardized testing

By Nicolaus Mills, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Nicolaus Mills is professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and author of "Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America's Coming of Age as a Superpower."

(CNN) - As education scandals go, the news that students at some of the best high schools on Long Island paid others to take their College Board tests seems mild. The Long Island scandal pales behind the sex scandal at Penn State.

Yet the fears driving the Long Island scandal come with much broader educational implications than those affecting Penn State. The cheating scandal reflects the tyranny that standardized testing has come to exercise over higher education in America.

Just before Thanksgiving, Nassau County district attorney Kathleen Rice leveled criminal charges against 13 students for their part in the Long Island testing scandal. Rice was right to treat as a criminal matter the testing fraud, which, after seven arrests in September, now includes 20 Long Island students.

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  1. elle

    The older I get, the more absurd the whole idea of those tests seems. I was a precocious reader; I found out in grammar school that I could ace those tests - Stanford-Binet etc. At the time, everybody made a big deal of the "IQ." I really thought I had it knocked. "Gifted." I had a lot to learn. I got into a prestige college on the strength of my SAT and National Merit scores but was an underachiever. Those tests give you the false impression that you have the game beaten.

    I feel now for the kids whose faces fell when they learned their scores. Some of them were really good students who studied hard and it gave them the feeling that they were fundamentally of mediocre intellect. At a very young and impressionable age. It hurt them, and for what?

    Whereas I, who had not really earned a thing, or had to try very hard thought I was a big deal. I had to grow up and learn to fail and struggle before I realized that a test doesn't mean a darn thing; something you sit down and do in four hours. What possible value does that have in predicting your success in life without taking your other traits into account? What matters is your ability to stay on task, set goals and fulfill them, do the needed research and master the subject matter however how long it takes.

    Of the kids I thought I was much smarter than, one is now running a major Fortune 500 corporation, yup, the CEO; one is doing breakthrough medical research; a couple have written books, many have started their own businesses and succeeded. There's a lesson there. I am not exactly a failure, but by their standards I probably am. Smarty pants.

    December 1, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • KC

      Agreed! Peg Tyre has a book out called The Good School you would enjoy.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:42 am |
  2. Manny

    I think people need to tell the kids that the test isn't too important. I got into a University with a crap SAT score, what really counts is how active you are in high school (joining clubs, sports, etc.). I'm almost certain that Universities are looking for students with the motivation to excel in their studies and not just a test score. SATs are simply a small piece of a large pie.

    November 30, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Adam

      Not true Manny. The typical college admissions board weighs the SAT equally to students' GPA–each worth about 40% of the total application score. The essay(s) are usually 10-15%, with the remaining points allocated to incidentals, such as extra-curricular activiities. The SAT is the single *most* important factor to getting into most American universities.

      December 1, 2011 at 8:34 am |
      • slew

        Adam, most colleges/universities do not weight anything like 40-40-10-10 (gpa,sat,essay,extra), the weights used by typical universities are more like 30-30-10-30. For more selective schools, they rely even more on recommendations than SAT. SAT is a dying test that most colleges/universities are treating as a threshold level. If you meet the some threshold, then it doesn't matter how high you score. The more selective the college/university, the higher the threshold, but scoring 2100 vs 2350 won't make a lick of difference.

        December 1, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
      • KC

        Adam it depends on what university you are applying for. I had a bad SAT score too but my university had a program to get students in anyway. If you had a great GPA and bad test scores than it was OK. We were put in a program called the CAP program. Well, I was in that program and graduated from Pace University with a BBA degree in Marketing/Advertising and Promotions.

        December 5, 2011 at 4:38 am |
      • Steve Miller

        I thought it was race. Asian's are know for putting themselves down other races so they are not compared to other high achieving asians.

        December 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  3. HCC

    The blatant racism, poor spelling, non-existant proofreading and illogical arguments written above would reveal more about the ability of the writer to function at a college level than any SAT score. Since the SAT is only part of the admission process, I would suggest learning how to write a thought-provoking essay without multiple errors. Otherwise your writing only confirms the SAT is an effective tool in determining whether a student is able to perform at the college level. However, if you are in a college or university setting, it does support the case that the SAT test score by itself does not indicate with any degree of accuracy the intelligence or the ability of a student to become educated.

    November 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  4. Jotseone burch

    These tests are wAYYYYYYYYYY over rated. Considering the college dropout rate is around 50% I consider these tests a failure.

    November 30, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Adam

      You blame the test for the college dropout rate? Seems to me that the *colleges* and the *students* are to blame for that, not the entrance exam.

      December 1, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  5. JEN


    November 30, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • alexbot

      or needed meds and refused to take them. these test are only made to seperate people, rich white folks will sell their souls to the devil if it means keeping a poor white child or minority from advancing. but if you look at the mess this country is in..its all those i am better than you white folks who made this mess and its them blaming Obama for it. Some of us don't need them thinking for us, we just need to remember.

      November 30, 2011 at 2:05 pm |