When the SAT is mentioned, people often think of No. 2 pencils, massive practice books, hundreds of hours (and dollars’ worth) of tutoring sessions, all leading up to the Saturday morning event that’s described as the be-all, and end-all of tests, an exam that, more than any other test or piece of academic schoolwork, most influences a student’s future. This high-stakes test is commonly believed to measure a student’s aptitude for academic success.
But does it?
The Test and the Art of Thinking, the latest documentary from Canobie Films, raises that very question, challenging many preconceived notions about the role of the test, and the extent to which the test scores accurately reflect the intelligence of students.
As part of a series of test screenings held in cities such as Washington, D.C., and New York, more than 50 moviegoers gathered at Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge on Jan. 18 to get a first glimpse at the film. The film features interviews with several high school and college students, as well as individuals in academia and the college prep world, including WPI’s own Kristin Tichenor, senior vice president, enrollment and institutional strategy. Tichenor, along with many other members of the WPI community, attended the test screening.
At the screening, the film’s co-producers, Michael Arlen Davis and Jyll Johnstone, explained that the idea for their latest film was sparked when their daughters were preparing to take the SAT. In an effort to help with the studying, Davis took a practice test, and described it as an odd experience.
“I couldn’t make connections specifically between [his daughter’s] education and the test, and wondered if it was just me,” he explained. “It was then that we began the investigation.”
The Test and the Art of Thinking explores a variety of issues surrounding the high stakes test. That includes a look at who typically benefits from the testing; the problem of students who opt out of schools for fear that their SAT scores will disqualify them for consideration; and how the SAT is beginning to influence K-12 education.
What first began as a military qualifying test has become a staple in the American education system. While the SAT continues to be a powerful part of the college application process, more than 1,000 colleges and universities—including WPI—have adopted test-optional admissions policies. “We can make good [admissions] decisions without the SAT,” Tichenor said during a Q&A session following the film.
Tichenor's lending her expertise to The Test and the Art of Thinking comes at an appropriate time, considering WPI recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its adoption of a test-optional admissions policy. In 2007, the university became the first nationally ranked science and engineering university to adopt this kind of policy.
“We are committed to not contributing to the hype associated with standardized test scores,” she said in a previous interview with the Daily Herd. “We have a holistic review process, and our test-optional admissions policy shows we care about more than just the numbers. It also makes WPI more accessible to underrepresented populations whose standardized test scores have historically underpredicted their academic success: women, minority students, low-income students, and first-generation students.”
Also in attendance were students, some of whom had been featured in the film, and had varying experiences with the infamous test. One student shared how she went into the SAT with an excellent GPA, and did poorly on the test; others had the opposite experience, with stellar SAT scores and unimpressive GPAs. Their anecdotes and thoughts on the issue further helped to personalize a message that the film—and WPI—have been trying to convey: the SAT is not always the best indicator of whether a student will be successful after high school, and shouldn’t be used as such. Tichenor notes that success in WPI’s project-based curriculum demands more than excellent test-taking skills. Students need to have a strong work ethic and the capacity to apply their theoretical knowledge to real-world problem solving.
“It’s more than an ethical issue,” added Andy Palumbo, WPI’s dean of admissions and financial aid, who was also in attendance at the screening. “It’s more of a dedication among practitioners who believe in evaluating students for who they are and the things they have done, not how they did on a single high-stakes test.”
A wide release date for the film has yet to be set, but those interested may visit the Canobie Films website for more information.
- By Allison Racicot