The Washington Post

Admissions 101: Are the SAT and ACT to blame for the inferiority of U.S. schools compared to those Finland, Japan, Singapore, and Shanghai?

In his new book “Surpassing Shanghai” comparing U.S. schools to those in countries (and the city of Shanghai) where students outperform us on international tests, Marc S. Tucker notes that they nearly all share one approach to college admissions that is different from ours. They don't use machine-scored exams controlled by testing companies as the key to determining who is admitted to high-level academic institutions.

Unlike the SAT and the ACT, the content of the entrance exams in these countries is controlled by the universities and is closely tied to the content of the courses given in senior high school grades. Usually the exams must be scored by human beings since they are full of essay questions.

Tucker suggests that this creates a different dynamic in high schools and motivates students in these schools to work harder to analyze what they are learning because if they don't, they are not going to get into the best colleges. Does he have a point or not?

Jay Mathews is an education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, his employer for 40 years.
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