Merit? Give me a Break!

Note: After writing this post last night and sleeping on it, I think perhaps I should have waited before pressing the “Publish” button. I realize that my words may have been offensive to those friends of mine whose children have (or they themselves have) achieved the National Merit Scholarship, and for that I am very sorry. In no way did I intend to denigrate your accomplishments. I know how hard a student needs to work and I say a huge KUDOS to all those who do qualify as semi-finalists. My gripe is NOT with those who do succeed, but with the attitude that one test somehow measures merit. In a world where suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people, we need to do everything we can to ensure they know their worth is NOT tied to their performance on ANY test.


Dear College Board,

I hate you.

The choices I made in my daughter’s educational career were influenced by the content she *would* one day face on that most twisted of scholarship opportunities you provide in the National ‘Merit’ Scholarship awards with the PSAT.  Therefore, rather than taking Algebra 2 her sophomore year, she took Geometry, because we were assured that the PSAT covered content through Geometry and the SAT covered content through Algebra 2.

Then you went and changed the content of the test in the very year it matters for her.

And I just spent the last hour consoling an intelligent, brilliant young student who was unable to finish the math portion of your practice test because it has math problems the likes of which she has not seen before. You know, as in Algebra 2 content? Meanwhile all that Geometry is rolling around in her head without a chance of being used much in your esteemed PSAT.

I’m sure she’s not the only student who will be caught in the crossfire of your decision. As she sat and cried giant tears, “It’s hopeless!” after being unable to finish the math portion, I couldn’t help but inwardly agree with her. How can she be expected to complete problems on content that has not yet been learned? Now, if she could take the PSAT AFTER her junior year, when she would have Algebra 2 behind her, as your content was when we made our schooling decisions, she’d be sitting pretty.

Instead I’m talking my teen down from the ledge.

And I have you to thank for that, College Board.

On Wednesday morning, my junior will dutifully arrive bright and early and take your exam that supposedly will show her “merit.” But I’m here to tell you that the “merit” you measure has about 0% to do with the actual worth inside a person.


Before I took the PSAT in 1988, I qualified for a special week-long camp that was supposed to teach me test strategies so I could go on to ace the test.  My parents forked over the money and I did the best I could do…and saw my score drop. Yep. It dropped. You see, I couldn’t finish the math in the measly time you provided, either.

But I earned a very solid A in every college math class I took and I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA. Sure, it took hard work and much study. But I did it, and so can she.

So you can take your “new” PSAT and put it on the shelf. My baby’s merit is based on far more than her performance on contrived content.

“Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance [or test scores], but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6)

The Lord has gifted my girl with immeasurable talents and a beautiful heart that your PSAT will never come close to measuring. So, sure. She’ll take your test. But not to see if she has “merit.” She’ll take it as practice for the SAT. You know, because it IS the “Pre-SAT,” after all.

But in the meantime I have to guard her from the danger of thinking her “merit” is somehow tied to a score on a test that isn’t even scientifically predictive of success. In fact, studies have shown that PSAT sores are indicative of a students’ future academic success less than 50% of the time.

  • Predictive validity for academic success often falls below .50.

Consider yourselves on notice:

Dear College Board, you don’t own me…or my daughter.

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