Did Senator Schumer really get a perfect 1600 SAT score?


SAT prep guru Stanley H. Kaplan,
Schumer`s teacher, boss, and mentor

Chuck Schumer (D-NY) of the Gang of Eight is almost universally said to have gotten a perfect 1600 on his SAT score in the mid-1960s. Yet, single-sitting 1600s were vanishingly rare before SAT scoring was made easier in 1995: annually, perhaps single digit or very low double digit numbers of students in the entire country.

Schumer seems like a very, very smart guy, but what were the odds he was really Top Ten in the USA smart? 

The only voice I can find online that says that maybe Schumer didn`t score 1600 is the late test prep entrepreneur Stanley H. Kaplan, who wrote in his autobiography:

“Charles Schumer, now the senior U.S. senator from New York, worked in my printing office while he was in high school. I should have known then that he would aspire to high office because he would read the materials as they came off the copy machine to check to see whether I had made any mistakes. He studied while he worked. His SAT score was close to a perfect 1600.”

So, Kaplan says Schumer scored “close to a perfect 1600,” which sounds more likely.

The Kaplan businesses keep the Washington Post afloat these days, so we`re supposed to treat Kaplan`s big breakthrough as a great thing, but test prep is pretty much of a negative sum game. We`d be better off if test prep had never been invented.

Also, didn`t Kaplan start out as kind of a scam where he had high school students who worked for him write down immediately after the test all the questions they could remember, and thus Kaplan overwhelmed the Educational Testing Service, which was unprepared at the time to vary questions often enough for Kaplan-groomed test-takers? (It`s much the same system of cheating in essence as the one that South Koreans have perfected recently.)

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker in 2001:

So Kaplan would have “Thank Goodness It’s Over” pizza parties after each S.A.T. As his students talked about the questions they had faced, he and his staff would listen and take notes, trying to get a sense of how better to structure their coaching.

That seems more than a little bit of naive way to phrase this activity. Kaplan and his employees were writing down the questions. You know what`s a better way to structure their coaching? Tell students what a lot of the questions and answers are going to be.

“Every night I stayed up past midnight writing new questions and study materials,” he writes. “I spent hours trying to understand the design of the test, trying to think like the test makers, anticipating the types of questions my students would face.” His notes were typed up the next day, cranked out on a Gestetner machine, hung to dry in the office, then snatched off the line and given to waiting students.

Hey, Schumer was a high school student who worked for Kaplan! In fact, he ran the Gestetner duplicating machine.

From a 2007 New York Observer summary of a not-on-line New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin about Chuck Schumer:

In high school, he helped a teacher of his, Stanley Kaplan, get his test-prep business off the ground.

From NPR:

Senator CHUCK SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Stanley believed that these tests could overcome all the other barriers that, you know, America was ultimately the Ameritocracy. And even if your last name was different and you went to a large, you know, 5,000-person Brooklyn public school, if you could do well on these tests, you could get somewhere. 

SMITH: For Senator Schumer it was a very, very good score and admission to Harvard. 

From the WSJ:

“It was a mom-and-pop operation in those days,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat, who worked for Mr. Kaplan for three years while in high school. The future politician operated a mimeograph machine in a small office in a former dentist`s suite in Brooklyn. “It was my first job,” Mr. Schumer said. “I would go get him dinner at the cafeteria.” … 

“He was regarded as a rebel trying to bring down the whole system,” Mr. Schumer said. “It was almost religion that you couldn`t study for the aptitude test; that it was like an IQ test. Kaplan believed differently, and he proved them wrong.”

From an article in The Forward on Stanley H. Kaplan`s funeral:

Across from us sat Schumer, who later confided: “At 14, I worked for Stanley, running a mimeograph machine…. My nickname was ‘Four 800s’ [for acing SAT tests], but don’t quote me!”

“Four 800s”?

From the Washington Post:

He scored “four 800s” on his SAT, he says, including two achievement tests.

So, Schumer is on the record claiming 800s. But does that imply a single-sitting 1600? What we don`t know is how many times he took these tests. As Kaplan`s protege, Schumer may have taken several tests so he could so he could write down test questions immediately afterwards.

From Schumer`s recent book:

“After Madison, I got into Harvard (in part because of those endless hours spent staring at SAT prep material spinning around the mimeo drum).”

The ETS didn`t change questions all that often back then. Before Kaplan, gaming the SAT was considered unsporting. As Schumer has explained, he read the SAT questions over and over running Kaplan`s mimeo machine. So, he had a huge advantage over other high school students in that more trusting, less cynical, more honor-bound America that Stanley H. Kaplan helped undermine.

Okay, that might explain a lot. You know, sometimes it almost seems as if the world isn`t quite as random as we`re supposed to believe it is.

In summary, Chuck Schumer may or may not be one of the few hundred smartest people in America as his “Four 800s” self-proclaimed nickname would imply.

But, even more tellingly, he spent the formative years from age 14 to 17 working for Stanley H. Kaplan, the man who built a big business by out-conniving the College Board and the Educational Testing Service.

Graham, McCain, and Rubio ponder how high immigration

will turn out to be under their new bill.

Do you really think Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and 76-year-old John McCain are going to out-connive Schumer?

The devil is in the details of a bill that is now over 1,000 pages long. Who do you think has mastered more of the details: Stanley H. Kaplan`s prodigious protege or the GOP`s Three Amigos?

Kaplan and Schumer in the mid-1960s were attacking a testing system that assumed that people wouldn`t be so unsporting as to try to methodically exploit its weaknesses. Schumer`s stated view (see this video) is that he`s not all that innately brilliant, he just had a huge advantage in being one of the first in the country to fully exploit Kaplan`s system. This was before ETS erected a lot of defenses around their tests due to Kaplan-style prepping.

The question of whether Schumer would have scored “four 800s” without these advantages is less important than the realization that Schumer has just under a half century of experience (going back to when he started working for Kaplan around 1964) of the huge payoffs from methodically exploiting complex but naively constructed systems, such as college admission testing or immigration legislation. This should come as a wake-up call to Republicans who think they can reply on the Republican members of the Eight Banditios to defend GOP interests from Senator Schumer.