Admissions tests aren't all they're cracked up to be


(re: "Keep special schools special," July 19)

May I suggest that this circumscribed topic of specialized high school assessment tests discussion be expanded? Let’s take a look at yet another admissions test, the SAT, often required for college admissions.

Though it has taken about 40 years, my alma mater — The College at the University of Chicago — has recently decided not to require the taking, and thus submitting of, scores from the SAT in consideration of admission. When I applied in 1973, as a 16-year-old at Stuyvesant High School, the college admission process was competitive. Today, it appears to be insanely so.

I did well at Stuyvesant, and like most areas of life, there were those who achieved more, and those who achieved less in my graduating class. Yet about 300 (of 704) seniors considered themselves exceptionally gifted enough to apply to Harvard. None were admitted. Not I, thankfully.

I was coached, had tutors, and otherwise was amply prepared for the SAT. It didn’t help much. Graduating in the top 25 percent of Stuyvesant with grades that granted me entrance to the National Honor Society, my SAT scores were merely average in the competitive milieu (about 1200/1600). 

Yet, not only did the UofC downplay the SAT scores, it recognized (it appears for 40 years) what study after study has demonstrated: One’s high school grades were a far more accurate projection of college performance. How true: I made Dean’s List my final year there.

As for the specialized high schools, were we to initiate some sort of similar admissions process that could not be gamed by those choosing to do so, and dedicating the means — perhaps to require an interview, as did the UofC — or in some similar way allow for talented students to bypass what their backgrounds did not train them to achieve: The passing of a single solitary exam.

In my humble opinion, scoring well on one exam is hardly the barometer of academic and societal excellence that Ms. Judy Noy makes it out to be, and hardly the ticket to “success” as most Americans define it, i.e., how much you earn.

One additional exceptionally large problem with Ms. Noy’s attitude is how it appears to slam the door in the face of many talented, yet disadvantaged, young people — those whose native tongues might not be English, who lack a stable home, who might have had to hold down a job to help feed their family. No one is saying to discriminate against whites and Asians who are academically qualified. However, by expanding opportunity, all young people — not just good test-takers — benefit.

The answer is not to limit access to the pool of opportunities or its abundant resources, but to expand both. 

This would be a beacon to a country whose motto appears to be, “I got mine, tough — you get yours.” The expansion must start at an earlier time. For example, here Head Start has demonstrated its usefulness.

Expand the efforts. Build on them. Provide the ladders to success. If the talent demonstrates a non-academic bent, fund those programs as well. Electricians and plumbers are going to be needed ever more — and there’s little being done to train new ones. 

All kids are the future of our country. The crying need is to create more opportunity, not less. Where and how else can we show the country how it can be done than in one of its leading progressive cities?

Lastly, and sadly, where is the compassion in a city that appears to slam the door in the faces of the disadvantaged? As the saying goes, judge not others until you walk a mile in their shoes. You’ll likely be far happier if you do.

Adam Stoler,