None of the Above

Annually, thousands of high school seniors undergo an academic rite of passage: They take Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT’s) in the hope that high scores will bring acceptance at a prestigious college. Owen thinks that these seniors spend money and experience anxiety for no good reason. The SAT’s are badly designed; their underlying philosophy is bankrupt; their composer, the Educational Testing Service (EDS), is more interested in its profitable monopoly than in appreciating its product’s shortcomings.

Owen claims that the SAT’s are poorly prepared. The writers who devise the questions are virtually untrained; the test-assemblers cannot even define the “aptitude” they purport to measure. Additionally, the tests are a financial burden to a captive audience. Fees are steep, and the pressure to succeed drives many students to purchase SAT preparation courses that promise to improve scores. Owen argues that since coaching improves scores (something ETS denies), the claim that the SAT’s are a standard measure of college-bound students is fraudulent.

The SAT’s are, to Owen, only the most glaring of ETS’s errant ideas. He blames ETS for charging high fees despite low costs and continuing as a nonprofit organization despite its corporate, entrepreneurial expansion. Worse, ETS perpetuates educators’ blind faith in the reliability of standardized, multiple-choice examinations.

The book’s strengths are its brisk style and its logical challenge to smug assumptions about objective testing. Owen names names, reprints documents, and bluntly labels testing jargon “stupidity.”

The book’s weaknesses are peevishness and hyperbole. Owen’s complaints about uncooperative ETS personnel and allegations of deep conspiracies swell the book without bolstering its argument. The weaknesses are, however, less than the sum of the strengths.