Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Let's hear it for the (end of the) SAT, as Michael Arlen Davis' new doc, THE TEST AND THE ART OF THINKING, opens theatrically

Doing pretty much what The Smartest Guys in the Room did for ENRON and  the more recent China Hustle does for the sleaze inhabiting Wall Street, the banking system and China itself, the new documentary, THE TEST AND THE ART OF THINKING lays bare the rather worthless, appalling and incredibly time-wasting and trouble-making "standardized" test known as the SAT, along with its adjunct organization, The College Board -- the latter of which back in 2014 took in more than 840 million dollars in revenue. Hmmm...

As directed by newcomer -- this appears to be his first film --  Michael Arlen Davis, the doc is quite home-made and all over the place, bouncing back and forth between an enormous range of participating interviewees.

These include a good number of students,  together with a few parents; higher education professors, administrators, deans of admissions and Presidents; writers specializing in the field of education; tech prep specialists and professional SAT tutors, the likes of which you will not have seen and heard anywhere else (unless, of course, you yourself recently studied for the SAT/ACT college admissions exams).

Initially you may imagine that the movie is somewhat balanced, as we do hear from some folk that seem to be pro these "standardized" tests. Soon enough, however, you'll find yourself -- and rightly, it seems to TrustMovies -- coming down foursquare on the side of those who oppose these tests as pretty much not worth the paper on which they are printed.

Why? That is what the movie explains in many ways and from various angles, including how and why the SAT does not really test the intelligence of its takers, at least not "intelligence" as many of us understand the word. Instead it seems to be more and more rigged so that, as we see demonstrated over and over here, students can, in a very real sense, be taught to "scam" it. "You can break the test's code," insists one tutor, "without ever even looking at its actual questions."

What we learn from the film's plethora of tutors and "tech preppers" (Chris Ajemian, above, is one such) is both eye-opening and mind-boggling. Little wonder some schools are now opting to make this test optional. Along with the ways students can "overcome" the SAT, we also learn a good deal about the test's history, along with the suggestion that each time the test has been changed and/or its participants have been expanded, the question was always asked: "You're going to let in those people?"

During one section, black and other minority students (and tutors, like Akil Bello, above) talk about their responses to the test, and in the film's funniest scene, one fellow provides proof that, regarding the "essay" section of the test, longer always ends up better. He shows us one essay, which received the highest score possible, which is filled with complete fabrications (Barack Obama was a Basque revolutionary working with Winston Churchill to depose Francisco Franco!) but this essay is so "well-written" -- using so many 75-cent words and nicely varied grammatical construction -- that facts and content simply go by the wayside.

Little wonder so many professionals here remain incredulous that despite the fact the the emperor has been shown, time and again, to have no clothes, the SAT just keeps going on and on and on. As one person points out, if the top-rated schools simply said no, this nonsense would cease. The film's most sustained argument comes from Dr. Richard C. Atkinson, shown above, the former President and Regent of the University of California system. What he says and why packs quite the punch.

The biggest villain here is clearly The College Board -- that keeps making would-be au courant changes, while demanding that all this continue. Worse, it seems that now there is a movement afoot to change the SAT/ACT so that the tests look more like the high school curriculum. Or will it be the reverse -- using the test as a kind of high school accountability measurement? Either way, it's topping disaster with more disaster.

Funny, appalling, bleak and well-documented, The Test and the Art of Thinking is a must for parents of high-schoolers, or for that matter kids who'll be there anytime over the next few years. As the movie closes, we're asked if perhaps these tests paint a picture of what the United States of America has now become. Or maybe only what it wants to be. Either way, as they say: Yikes.

From Abramorama and running a swift 85 minutes, the documentary opens this Friday, April 27, in New York City at the new Landmark 57 West, and then the following Friday, May 4, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall. From there it will expand across the country. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then scroll down.

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