The American, July-August, 2007.
For most high school students who want to attend an elite college, the SAT is more than a test. It is one of life’s landmarks. Waiting for the scores—one for verbal, one for math, and now one for writing, with a possible 800 on each—is painfully suspenseful. The exact scores are commonly remembered forever after.
So it has been for half a century. But events of recent years have challenged the SAT’s position. In 2001, Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California, proposed dropping the SAT as a requirement for admission. More and more prestigious small colleges, such as Middlebury and Bennington, are making the SAT optional. The charge that the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged children—“a wealth test,” as Harvard law professor Lani Guinier calls it—has been ubiquitous. I have watched the attacks on the SAT with dismay. Back in 1961, the test helped get me into Harvard from a small Iowa town by giving me a way to show that I could compete with applicants from Exeter and Andover. Ever since, I have seen the SAT as the friend of the little guy, just as James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard, said it would be when he urged the SAT upon the nation in the 1940s.