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Monday, April 10, 2006
A Particularly Fat-Headed Column

News item: Two-thirds of all students graduating high school are hoping to go on to college. Response by Dan K. Thomasson:

A startling figure cropped up the other day in news reports about college admissions. It was noted that of the nearly 3 million of those expected to graduate from high school this year, two-thirds would be looking for space in an institution of higher learning.

What that says about the national ability to produce a labor force capable of competing in today's world economy is downright scary.

And no doubt the Dan K. Thomassons of the past moaned when education became mandatory until age 16. If 12-year-olds couldn't get a good-paying job, obviously the country was going to hell in a handbasket.

We are now being told that there are so many applications for college that even a perfect score on an SAT won't assure one of a place in the Ivy League, where a decline in the percentage of acceptances is expected to continue for some time....Of course, if one gets a legitimate perfect score on the SAT and is still denied admission to the college of choice, the test is as worthless, as many have begun to think it is.

Of course the key word is "legitimate"; we all know that some perfect SATs are not as perfect as others. A double-800 in the 1970s is in all probability a higher percentage of correct answers than it was in the 1990s, following the "renorming" of the test.

My daughter recently inquired as to whether graduation with honors from Thomas Jefferson, a magnet high school of high national reputation in Fairfax County, Va., where merit scholars abound, would enhance her daughter's chances of cracking the Ivy League or other elite schools. Not necessarily, said a recent graduate who was turned down by her first choices despite outstanding grades. The young lady said a Harvard representative who had visited assessed Jefferson's reputation as not uniform among his school's officials.

Catch the little sleight of hand there? Thomasson slips from talking about perfect SAT scores to perfect grades, but we are not told about both regarding any student. A student with perfect SATs and a C average should not expect to be admitted to Harvard; nor should one with perfect grades and mediocre SATs. Those with the double-positives will get in at higher rates, and if they don't it will probably be because they don't belong to some protected minority.
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