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New SAT Has a Legitimate Purpose

The new SAT, which premieres in March, is being criticized for being too dependent on the ability of students to read with understanding ("New, Reading-Heavy SAT Has Students Worried," The New York Times, Feb. 9). As readers of this column know, I'm not a fan of the SAT.  But this is one time when I think its designers are on the right track.

If students can't understand the long passages with demanding vocabulary on the new version, how in the world can they handle college-level work?  Authors of textbooks used at four-year colleges and universities correctly assume that students possess such wherewithal, or they wouldn't have been admitted in the first place.

A report released Feb. 9 by the National Association of Scholars on its study of more than 350 universities' "common reading" programs underscores my view ("Notable & Quotable: College 'Common Reading,' " The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9).  It found that "colleges presume students regard reading as a strange and difficult activity, to which they must be introduced with careful thought and great caution."  That's most disturbing.  If students think of reading that way, they are not college material.  Yet such students are not only admitted but are given easy reading assignments such as young adult books, science fiction, and comic books.  

This pandering makes a mockery of what purports to be a college education and totally devalues a bachelor's degree. Yet this approach is only going to become more widespread as our college-for-all obsession intensifies. So rather than blame the SAT for placing greater emphasis on reading, I think we should applaud its new version.  It will help weed out those who would be far better served in a career and technical curriculum. Anyone doubting so should know that my plumber makes more in a year than I ever did as a teacher with an Ivy League education.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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