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1.22.2004

More nitpicking about the SAT 

Apparently Pitzer College no longer requires students with a 3.5 GPA and a top 10% ranking in their schools to submit SAT scores. Why? Because of culturally biased questions such as the one below:



Here, for example, is an actual SAT question: "Aware of the baleful weather predicted by forecasters, we decided the — would be the best place for our company picnic. (A) roof (B) cafeteria (C) beach (D) park (E) lake"

Now, if I had grown up on the East Coast, my immediate choice would be "cafeteria," as my assumption would be that "baleful weather" would indicate rain or maybe even snow. But in fact, I lived for many years on the western side of the Pacific Coast Highway, so "baleful weather" could indicate high waves — meaning that my company picnic would be best, and more pleasantly, relocated to a lake.

On the other hand, if I had lived in Iowa (and I did for five years), baleful weather might indicate flooding. Obviously my company picnic would be best held on the roof. What to do? What to choose?

Context: the framework within which we make sense of the world.



Great, we have one example of a culturally biased question, and a rather dubious one at that. Come on, baleful means "deadly or pernicious in influence", or "foreboding evil", or "ominous", according to Merriam-Webster. In the context of weather, all of these choices clearly mean "rain and/or thunderstorms". Duh.

The problem with the SAT (the verbal section in particular) is not the rare incidence of "culturally biased" questions of the "boat: regatta :: runner: marathon" type. The problem is not that otherwise smart kids from poor, underperforming schools do poorly on the exam. The problem is that otherwise stupid kids from rich households can buy higher SAT scores by taking expensive SAT prep courses, and it's amazing to me that more educators don't realize this.

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