Dear Extra Credit:

Since you asked for our feedback about your article on SAT tests ["What the SAT Tests Are Really Scoring," Fairfax Extra, Sept. 8], I will give you my two cents as a parent of a Madison High School senior.

First of all, unlike you, I am a fan of the SAT. I think it's critical to efficiency in college admissions, given that some school districts practice rampant grade inflation and others (including Fairfax County) do not. Without the objectivity of having SAT grades, colleges would be missing a critical piece of information in their admissions processes. As I am sure you know, studies have indeed found the SAT to be a good and useful predictor of how well kids do in college.

On the other hand, I agree with you that the average SAT grade of a school's students doesn't tell one much about whether that school is a good place to learn. After all, even with the changes, it's still pretty much an aptitude test. Thus, it's going to correlate more with IQ than with the quality of teachers. Moreover, if one's goal is to get into the most selective college possible, I think there's probably a decent argument to be made that one may be better off in one of the less elite high schools, taking as many tough courses as possible and perhaps standing out more from the pack.

Chris Randolph


Dear Extra Credit:

Your Sept. 8 column was a good piece, but it was incomplete because it did not include several relevant factors affecting SAT scores. While poverty does correlate with SAT achievement, a more powerful correlation appears to be culture.

Asians in general and the immigrants from some Latin countries have a deep cultural reverence for education that transcends economic status. On the other hand, domestic underclass culture, particularly that of many African Americans, denigrates promising black students as "acting white," as if scholarship was a racial characteristic.

The column alluded to this peripherally in trying to explain why an economically poor but diverse school such as J.E.B. Stuart exceeded expectations. The article also did not account for the fact that immigrant children's scores go up as they master the English language. Lastly, the article ignored significant research that shows that SAT scores correlate very well with first-year college performance, a useful indicator for college admissions offices.

Gary Hagan


Dear Extra Credit:

The SAT was not designed to have any bearing on the quality of the education program (curriculum, teachers or administration) in any school or district; therefore, your premise concerning how to compare which schools are doing well -- regardless of the measures you use -- and which are not is terribly flawed. The SAT is a valid test. It does a good job of doing what it is designed to do: predict how well students will do during their first year of college.

Gathering information on student success is difficult, as virtually every college student is 18 or older; therefore, their academic records are exempt from dissemination without their permission. Figure a way to get this information and establish criteria to determine what constitutes success, and you'll be able to actually address the question as to whether the SAT is valid.

Cy Young

Mount Vernon

Madison High School teacher

Thank you for several good points. I was trying to make Mr. Young's argument: The SAT is not designed to measure the quality of educational programs, and yet it remains a popular means of rating high schools. I wish we could change that.

As for the use of the SAT in the college admission process, I share your view that it gives needed solace to students in very competitive high schools and has its uses in admissions. But I would like to junk it in favor of the SAT subject tests, Advanced Placement tests or International Baccalaureate tests that directly measure lessons learned in the classroom and don't give such an advantage to students who can afford $1,000 test prep courses.

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