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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

What Does “SAT” Stand For?

SAT doesn't mean anything!

As the box “The Validity of “Standardized” Testing in Education and Employment” tells, SAT no longer stands for “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” The leadership of ETS realized in the 1980s that the test does not measure “college aptitude.” Indeed, it does not even correlate well with first-semester college GPA, which is what it is supposed to do. So they changed its name to “Scholastic Assessment Test,” keeping the initials the same.

A few years later, they became aware that “Scholastic Assessment Test” was redundant, repetitive, and said the same thing twice! So they made one more change: now it stands for nothing. That is, SAT means “S.A.T.” Nowhere on the SAT home page does the word “aptitude” occur.

However, the result is what lawyers call “a distinction without a difference.” That is, if you go to Google and type in “Scholastic Assessment Test,” this ETS home page for the SAT comes up first. So “Scholastic Assessment Test” is still there, only invisibly. In turn asking high school seniors or college undergraduates what “SAT” stands for brings forth a chorus of “Scholastic Assessment Test.” So … no one knows that SAT stands for nothing.

What difference does all this make? Loewen has personally talked with capable students who got low SAT scores and concluded that they were not really college material, or who didn’t bother applying to demanding colleges because they didn’t think they had the aptitude. But they could do the work!

Low SAT scores especially plague racial/ethnic minorities, rural students, inner-city dwellers, and girls (compared to boys). It’s time to retire this unfortunate and useless hurdle.

The Validity of "Standardized" Testing in Education and Employment

Loewen was the lead panelist in hearings held by the United States Commission on Civil Rights (back when we had one). His initial testimony is on pages 41-45. On pages 58-59, Loewen’s remarks prompt Dr. Nancy Cole, then vice-president of ETS, to agree that she “would also prefer that the Scholastic Aptitude Test didn’t have the term ‘aptitude’ in its name.” Dr. Lloyd Bond also agreed. Later, when Dr. Cole became head of ETS, she changed the name to “Scholastic Assessment Test.” Then, after ETS realized the new name was redundant, it was changed simply to “SAT.” Today, “SAT” stands for SAT!

Loewen has additional comments on pages 60-62. His paper, “A Sociological View of Aptitude Tests,” occupies pages 73-91. He also recommends testimony and papers by other panelists and by Eileen Rudert, who edited the volume.