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High schooler's take on the SAT: It scores with Times' readers

Exams and Standardized Tests

OK, a quick quiz for readers: Was the Op-Ed article entitled “Just My Luck” in Sunday’s Times

(a) Good writing

(b) A compelling argument

(c) An indictment of test-taking

(d) All of the above

Delightedly — or maybe dutifully — many Times letter writers answered (a) (b) (c) and (d) in response.

In the Op-Ed, high school junior Haskell Flender wrote about taking the SAT test:

“But my group of test-takers had a dubious distinction, one that set us apart from those who have taken the SAT before us and those who will take it in years to come. We were taking a test that, just three days prior, had been declared by the organization that administers it to be flawed because it a) tests antiquated vocabulary, b) presents artificial obstacles, c) disadvantages those who cannot afford expensive preparatory courses, d) is a poor predictor of college readiness and success, or e) causes ‘unproductive anxiety’ among high school students. Correct answer: all of the above.)”

Countered Eileen Flaxman of Sherman Oaks:

“Kids have been whining about the SAT for generations. But let’s not forget the inherent practical value of this rite of passage that is useful for the rest of our lives: a) set a goal, b) prioritize our schedule so that we can c) do all that is required to accomplish that goal, d) manage our anxiety as the goal gets closer, e) put everything we’ve got into it the day of, and finally, f) let go of remorse, regret, should-haves and would-haves, and be proud that we did all we could. Now that’s a learning experience.”

Stephen Mattson of Los Osos offered his own lesson:

“How pleasantly ironic to read a piece in which the author employs the very skills he decries to fashion an organized and nicely written (if rather predictable and shallow) argument against sophistication and complexity. To Haskell Flender I send one simple message: Man, U R for sure 1 lucky dude, dude!”

Others, including Gloria Mathys of Rancho Palos Verdes, praised the skillful writing:

“If this young man is indeed a junior in high school, he should not have been required to take the SAT test at all; rather, he should have been skipped to his senior year at Harvard.”

Ditto, chimed Linda Winters of Culver City:

“This should have been the essay that Haskell Flender wrote for his SAT. If so, this kid is in like Flynn! What a clever, entertaining and meaningful piece of writing.”

Several, like Joan Le Vantine of Palm Desert, backed the critique on test-taking:

“Congratulations to this high school student for his intelligent, right-on views of the current SAT test. He is absolutely correct in questioning the use of this admittedly flawed test as a guide for college admission personnel. Where is the logic in this requirement? I was especially impressed by the excellent summation to his article. Haskell, you said a mouthful.”

Diane Silver of Lancaster took the long view:

“Flender’s use of the English language is so impressive as to make me doubt he is, indeed, what you say he is. He is not only highly intelligent, he is mature beyond his years.

I have felt, since the beginning of the ‘teach to the test’ era began, that it is useless in deciding if a student is college material. I’m 81 years old now and don’t remember even a small precentage of that lost test, but I know it surely didn’t measure my readiness for college. Things that I do remember are those that helped me to think.”

And Bob Bruesch of Rosemead, president of the Garvey School District board of education, observed pointedly:

“Out of the mouth of a babe comes the truth that educational reformers have expressed throughout the centuries.... Our schools (K through college) are still mired in the swamp of left-brain memorization while our modern economy is pleading for more right-brain creativity and entrepreneurship.

“Are the oligarchs of the SAT removing the essay section because of its ‘irrelevancy to future success in college’ or because it was too time-consuming and costly to evaluate it for creativity and logical thought?”

The young author had his own thoughts on that, as he concluded in his Op-Ed:

“Nevertheless, kudos to you, College Board, for your perspicacity in acknowledging your parochialism and for taking steps to ameliorate your antediluvian test. I hope I’ve adequately registered my disapprobation with your timing; pardon my circumlocution.

“If only I had been born two years later! In that case, I wouldn’t need to know what any of those words means.”

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