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Talking to the Deans About the SATs

Lots of parents are concerned about the SATs and ACTs their teens will take in the fall. Are your kids ready for these critical tests?

Who would think a page of tiny little ovals and a number two pencil could cause so much stress?

Standardized testing, specifically the SAT, is in the limelight these days. Last spring, 5,000 tests were graded incorrectly. In August, the College Board reported average SAT scores were down more than they have been in thirty-one years; some theorize the fault is fatigue, caused by hours of slogging away at a test made even longer last year by the addition of a writing segment.

About 700 colleges no longer require standardized testing. At most institutions, however, such tests are one competitive stick on a precarious pile of application requirements. ParentingTeensOnline talked to administrators at seven universities about their thoughts and advice on the SAT.

Is the SAT a good judge of a student?

“Our research indicates the best predictor of first-year success had everything to do with how a student had done in high school. I know these scores are used as screens [at larger universities], but it does a terrible disservice.”—Gail Berson, dean of admissions, Wheaton College (where SATs are optional as part of the admissions process; 60 percent of applicants do not submit such scores.)

“Test scores are one factor among so many others—grades, rigor of the curriculum, essays, recommendations from teachers. At Stanford, it’s important for us to really think about the students in the context of where they learn. There is no question that testing is a national reflection of kids nationwide and worldwide. But students shouldn’t use it as an absolute reflection of what’s going to happen.”—Richard Shaw, dean of admissions and financial aid, Stanford University

“It’s fairly predictive of freshman scores. It’s a necessary pressure.”—Ron Dietel, assistant director at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA and author of Get Smart! 9 Sure Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School

What do you think about the new writing section?

“It promotes writing across the board. I do worry how school systems will take it. Will they teach to the test as opposed to just teaching with more writing in their overall curriculum?”—Jennifer G. Fondiller, dean of admissions, Barnard College

“It sort of lumps writing in with rote learning.”—Michele Eodice, University of Oklahoma

“If it means schools are more focused a little bit on the issues of writing and rhetoric, that’s a good thing.”—Richard Shaw, Stanford University


What are your thoughts on taking SAT preparation courses?

“If you don’t have the funds [to have the coaching paid for or retake the test] or you don’t want to spend the money on that, there are other areas I’d recommend, music lessons, joining the band. There are lots of other ways to express your talents and get into college.”—Michele Eodice, University of Oklahoma

“I do think they help those who have test anxiety. I’ve talked to students who have done better after taking those courses. Is it a necessity? That’s up to the individual student.”—Lisa Pinamonti Kress, University of Kansas

“Nothing is going to replace a lot of reading and writing.”—Dan Saracino, assistant provost/admissions, Notre Dame University

“It reflects some inequity in society. It’s a billion-dollar industry, and it feeds to some extent the anxiety of parents and their kids. There are lots of kids with low-income backgrounds who don’t have access to it, and school districts can help with that.”—Richard Shaw, Stanford University

The Experts’ Top Eight Suggestions Guiding You Through the Admissions Process:

  • Calm down. Your teen will get into one of the more than 3,000 colleges and universities in this country.
  • Encourage good learning. Help your student be an active learner and participate in life.
  • Set a good example. Turn off the TV. Read. Play games such as Scrabble and do crossword puzzles.
  • Help your teen identify his strengths and go with them. It might be academics, sports, community service, or a creative outlet.
  • Help your teen make good choices. Apply to some schools that are out of reach, some they could probably get into, and some absolutes.
  • Advise your teen to take standardized tests the spring of junior year. That will give her enough knowledge to do well, enough time to take it again if necessary, and meet admission and scholarship deadlines.
  • Back off and give your kids a chance to breathe as they get through high school. This is not about you.
  • Celebrate with your teen! Whatever happens at the end of the process, let your child know how proud you are.

Photo courtesy of Parenting Teens Online

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