Opinion | SATs and Measuring Merit in College Admissions

To the Editor:

Re “Can College Meritocracy Survive?,” by Ross Douthat (column, April 30):

Good riddance to the SAT. It is a simplistic yardstick of performance — and tests a certain type of intelligence, whereas there are many. Further, it exacerbates the unfairness of higher education in the United States.

Those with means avail themselves of small armies of tutors and expensive prep courses, while those born into modest circumstances are on their own — a microcosm of American society.

Though even as the SAT fades in importance, we must recognize that its diminishment alone does not render the college admissions process fair — in fact, it is obscene in its bias. If we want a truly meritocratic system, we would do away with preferential admission for legacy applicants and those with parents who are generous donors.

I went to a private school in Manhattan. By and large, those whose parents had legacy status, connections and/or gave large donations received acceptance letters from Ivy League schools. Those who lacked these resources — acquired by birth and not merit — were left to pick up the scraps thrown from the table. Meritocracy is merely a myth.

Daniel Dolgicer
New York

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat’s concept of meritocracy misses the forest for the trees. The number of spots at Ivy League-type schools is artificially limited; there will always be meritorious students outside the elite bubble. Merit is determined by putting your education to good use after finishing college, not by the arbitrary number your school was assigned by some rankings conglomerate.

I attended a respectable but not “elite” school in Ohio for my bachelor’s degree. I still got an amazing education and was surrounded by incredible classmates. My experience in industry and graduate school is that people from nonelite schools frequently compete with or outperform peers from pedigreed schools. Rankings simply cannot accurately describe the quality and applicability of the instruction students receive in college.

So let’s agree as a society to drop the obsession with college rankings and admission to brand-name schools. Instead, we should focus our collective attention on increasing funding for universities across the board. Invest in everyone’s education. This is the path to a true meritocracy.

Quinn Winters
The writer is a graduate student at Technical University of Munich.

To the Editor:

While fretting over the demise of standardized tests in college admissions, Ross Douthat overlooks the real reason that admissions professionals have soured on their use: Standardized tests are poor predictors of actual performance in college.

Admissions work is more nuanced in the 21st century because professionals have read the data showing that unquantifiable factors like “grit” and “resilience” are better predictors of success in college than an ACT score. They know not to discount a student from an underfunded high school with poor test scores but lots of “A” grades. That student has shown the desire and discipline for academic work.

If you want a meritocracy, then the tests no longer fit the admissions task (and probably never did). Let ’em go the way of blue books.

Jim Brown
Victoria Brown
Havertown, Pa.
The writers are retired college professors.

To the Editor:

I could not agree more with Ross Douthat’s analysis.

I came from an immigrant working-class Italian family, so no exposure to the kinds of books, discussions, etc. of my upper-class competitors. I was class valedictorian at a public high school in a suburban Boston town that was very working class.

Had I not done well on the SATs, I doubt that I would have gotten accepted to Barnard, Jackson (Tufts), Wellesley or Brandeis.

I think Mr. Douthat is exactly right that it’s not the SATs that work against applicants who come from the middle or lower classes but the extracurriculars, the essays, the “right demeanor” in the interview. (I was wholly surprised by being asked in two of my interviews about whether I would be traveling in Europe during my summer before freshman year. How about a job?)

In the end, I became a highly successful partner for almost 20 years in a large Washington, D.C., law firm.

Marilyn Doria
Madison, Conn.

To the Editor:

Michael Sandel’s book “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good” explains that meritocracy is not as worth preserving as Ross Douthat claims.

As a secondary school English teacher and school administrator for over 25 years, I “get” why standardized testing often misrepresents a student’s true ability and potential.

Many talented students, both from affluent and poor backgrounds, do poorly on time-stressed standardized tests — though those from affluent families have the financial means to hire tutors to help them practice and improve.

Many American teens can’t or don’t go on to higher education, and feel unprepared to pursue college or a career (as high as 75 percent according to one survey). And of the roughly 60 percent who do go to college, only about 60 percent graduate in six years.

The focus shouldn’t be on elite universities and the merit of college admissions, but on why so many American teens don’t or can’t go on to higher education, or can’t complete a degree. Part of this problem is our culture’s focus on a college degree as necessary for a middle-class life.

Meritocracy and SATs aren’t the issue. Why our high schools so poorly prepare teens for productive lives is what we should be worrying about as a nation.

James Berkman
Plymouth, Vt.

To the Editor:

College admissions exemplifies how meritocracy has become gamified. This is why I stopped working for a company that prepares middle and high school students for admission to a top college.

Such businesses hire consultants — often college students like me — to construct an extracurricular plan for students or patch up their academic weaknesses. The result is a system in which privileged people help privileged people, where schools admit applications that are better than their applicants.

Admissions committees must more seriously consider whether the applicant and application are indeed of the same quality. They should begin to require students to declare whether they received outside help with their application, and how much. Then admissions officers can adjust the standards for these students accordingly.

Aman Majmudar
The writer is a junior at the University of Chicago.

To the Editor:

A question that’s left out of Ross Douthat’s column on meritocracy is whether or not we should value Ivy League degrees more than others. Are Ivy grads valued because they have more skills, or because when they were 18 they were able to get into a fancy school?

The lazy old-boys network that continues to recruit from a narrow pool for important jobs in a variety of fields is more to blame than the college admissions process.

Dave Case
Hood River, Ore.
The writer is a high school teacher who writes many letters of recommendations for his students.

Source: Read Full Article