Since many college applications are due between January 1 and February 1, I know that many of my students are fretting about their SAT scores. I wish I could tell them to relax, that the score is just a score, and that they will never have to hear the words SAT again, but that would not be telling them the truth. The hairy hand of the SAT can reach far forward into their future. An SAT score is a brand, locking academic potential in a data point where we are forever 17 years old.
When I took the test, it was known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and that was before it became known as the Scholastic Assessment Test. At that time, the top score was a 1600, and there was no writing section. There were no pre-tutoring sessions from pricey tutors available after school or on Saturdays to practice for the SAT. I think I glanced through a practice book.
That Saturday morning, I was dropped off by my father in our 68 VW van along with hundreds of equally bleary-eyed seniors. I think I paid that day because I waited for him to write out a check. About two hours later in the middle of the math section, I remember thinking “Whoa…maybe I should have studied for this.” I had approached this milestone in my life with a little too much confidence and too little breakfast. I came out of that ordeal exhausted and starved.
Some 38 years later, I am still reminded about the results from that day. For example, on applications to graduate school, there is always a question on my score on the SATs taken back in 1974.
“Really?” I think to myself, “I am so much better a student today. I have two graduate degrees, and I am gainfully employed in the field of education. I am a very differently educated person from my 17 year old self. Then I was financially strapped, working part-time in a pizza restaurant, and I had yet to attend my first rock concert. Yet, you still want to know what my high school SAT score was?”
While I am not ashamed of my score, I am not posting it, either. Fortunately, because of my SAT score, I have been able to waive out of other standardized tests, for example, the Praxis I in Connecticut which requires a combined minimum score of 1000. You can be content to know I met this minimum standard with several hundred points to spare. I did very well on the verbal, but in retrospect, I probably could have done better had I prepared for the math section a little more.
So when I come to that question on an application, I think how that score taken when I was 17 one cold spring morning cannot accurately reflect who I am today. Nor do I think that an SAT score accurately reflects who my students are either. At this time of year, I hear them discuss numbers as they explain why they may or may not, or did or did not, get into a college of their choice. Sometimes I am surprised to hear particularly high or low scores, however, this information never changes my opinion of the student I have seated in my class. A student with a particularly high SAT score may never turn a paper in on time and have a failing grade while a student with a low SAT score may have an “A” in my class because every assignment is done on time or revised when recommended. The SATs may be an “indicator”, but these are students, not numbers. The score on an SAT can still fall subject to human error.
I do not think at age 17 that I fully understood how far forward into my future the hairy hand of the SAT would travel. I doubt my students understand, but I hope they know that their future will not depend on their 17 year old academic selves.
I suppose I should be grateful that when I am asked for my SAT score, that there is not also a request for additional identification, say, a picture of me in that decade. That thought is chilling. The hiphuggers, bell bottoms, velvet jackets, and ubiquitous leotards of my high school decade are positively comical.My yellow chiffon prom dress is particularly hilarious. On the whole, I’d rather they see my SAT score.