Tag Archives: SAT

The Cheating and Fraud at Claremont McKenna

Claremont McKenna College, a private liberal arts school nestled in the foothills on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles County,
dishonored itself and defrauded the public in a cheap effort to bolster its national rankings in U.S. News and World Report. But if that weren’t bad enough, Claremont’s deception calls into question the very worth of its students, faculty, and graduates.

Richard Vos, Claremont’s dean of admissions for 25 years, resigned in disgrace this week after admitting to systematically manipulating the college’s SAT scores since 2005. Vos evidently altered the mean, median, and range of SAT scores to boost the college’s position on the influential list of college rankings.

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It’s Not the Test’s Fault

Cross-posted from National Association of Scholars.

test taking.jpg

Cross-posted from National Association of Scholars.

Fall 2011 has seen some major milestones for the SAT/ACT optional movement. DePaul University, for instance, initiated its first admission cycle sans test requirement. Clark University announced last month that it will offer test-optional admissions for the incoming class of 2013.

In his new book released this fall titled SAT Wars, sociologist Joseph A. Soares of Wake Forest University hails the success of test-optional admission policies. Wake Forest was the first of the top 30 U.S. News schools to go test-optional and is one of the most vocal cheerleaders of the movement through its blog Rethinking Admissions.  According to Soares, adopting policies that allow applicants to opt out of reporting their scores has successfully resulted in diversifying these campuses by race, gender, ethnicity, and class (groups he claims are excluded unfairly for underperforming on standardized tests) without compromising overall academic quality.

By all appearances, requirements for standardized testing in higher ed admissions is on the long and ragged road out the door.  To date nearly 850 colleges and universities (40% of all accredited, bachelor-degree granting schools in the country) have already bidden farewell to the test requirement in some form or another. 53 of these institutions are currently listed in the top tier on the “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” list published by U.S. News and World Report including Bowdoin, Smith, Bates, Holy Cross, and Mount Holyoke Colleges. Even some of U.S. News’ high ranking national universities, such as Wake Forest University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and American University, are categorized as test-optional.  It now seems likely that this trend will only gain in popularity and momentum in the coming years.

So is the SAT-optional movement a good thing?I have always loathed standardized tests myself, once conferring with my second grade teacher because I was certain that my scores were insufficient and that I was falling behind my peers.  It turned out that to be in the 94th percentile really was a good thing even if it was less than 100 – my eight-year-old mind just couldn’t comprehend this at the time.

Yet even after my elementary school pep talk on the nature of scaled grading, I always had this lingering feeling that standardized test scores were somehow an unfair representation of what I could do.  Perhaps I simply fell into the category of being a “poor” test taker, getting easily muddled by my own bubble filling perfectionism and the time constraints required by these acronymic tests.  Or maybe it was because I could never wrangle up enough motivation to spend my free time studying methods for optimizing my score.  And most of all, like any “free-thinking” member of my generation educated by the New Jersey public school curriculum of the 90s, it may have been because I was contentedly assured of being so much more than a number.

One would think given these facts that I would be all for the enforced disappearance of the SAT in favor of the new “holistic” entrance requirements offered by test optional schools. But like a wised-up adult now grateful that her mom made her eat vegetables as a child, I find myself in the curious position of lending support to this once bemoaned exam.

My reason for this change of heart is simple.  We need basic universal testing methods to separate out the prepared prospective students from the unprepared.

In his 2011 work, Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies, Howard Wainer uses the available statistical data to conclude that institutions considering SAT-optional policies should proceed with caution.

Making the SAT optional seems to guarantee that it will be the lower scoring students who withhold scores.  And these lower scoring students will also perform more poorly, on average, in their first-year college courses, even though the admissions office has found other evidence on which to offer them a spot.

For example, Wainer found that at Bowdoin College, a school at the forefront of test-optional admissions, students in the entering class of 1999 who chose not to report their SAT scores tested 120 points lower, on average, than those students who submitted scores with their application.  This gap does sound large at first glance, but when considering students who typically have combined scores of 1250 and above in the traditional math and verbal categories, does that 100-120 point spread really matter when deciding whether a student is college-ready?

Clearly, admissions administrators at schools like Bowdoin and Wake Forest don’t consider it to be a problem.  And they might be somewhat justified in this assessment, even if – as Wainer found – the non test reporting students tend to have lower college GPAs then their test reporting peers.  Not everyone should be getting As in college and there are plenty of middling students in solid programs who can still benefit from a college education.

But would these higher ranked institutions really want to admit students who score 200 or 300 points below the institutions’ averages?  Likely not, as the continued penchant for test-optional schools to purchase the names of high-test scorers indicates.  The test-optional philosophy of admissions might sound warm and fuzzy on the surface, but for many of these schools this still appears to be a numbers game; one that perpetuates the value of high scorers and high rankings, now precariously balanced with a goal of attaining the oh-so-necessary badges of inclusion and diversity (yet more statistics to tout).

Most of the students profiled by these SAT-optional schools to prove the success of their new admissions policies are ones who were already at the top of their high school classes and who would have been accepted to any number of decent schools, even with their horrifyingly “low” test scores.  Often colleges are willing to overlook mediocre scores if an applicant is salutatorian, captain of the volleyball team, or editor of the newspaper–achievements indicative of a certain level of discipline and focus.  And if what these test-optional schools claim is true–that there are students out there who are great fits for their campuses and who have everything in their applications except for a specific score range–the schools should have had the courage to admit (and maybe even recruit) them anyway, bad scores included.

It takes courage to admit low scoring applicants because doing so all but guarantees lowering the SAT averages of these institutions and thereby risks knocking them down a few pegs on many of the popular college ranking lists that use test scores of incoming freshman as a major factor in their rank calculations.  Now, with these new non-reporting admissions options, some schools do not consider themselves obligated to factor in the scores of their test-optional applicants, thus allowing their middle 50% SAT range to represent only test reporting students (presumably the best of their enrollment pool).  Just look at what the oft reoccurring footnote No. 9 on the U.S. News “Best Colleges List” has to say:

SAT and/or ACT may not be required by school for some or all applicants, and in some cases, data may not have been submitted in form requested by U.S. News. SAT and/or ACT information displayed is for fewer than 67 percent of enrolled freshmen.

If these schools truly believe that the tests are biased or inaccurate representations of student preparedness, then why should they care how their test medians rank or if they recruit the highest scorers for their incoming classes?

Apparent hypocrisy aside, my suspicion is that the schools profiled most frequently on this issue, and the debates surrounding their choice to step away from standardized tests, cover up the true harm the test-optional movement has on academe as a whole.  For it seems to pose the most danger not to its leaders, many of whom still selectively accept students over the 80th percentile, but to the large number of other schools who are realistically following suit to lower their admissions standards and raise enrollment to make ends meet.  A 100-point spread might not mean all that much to students with scores of 1250+, but it can definitely make a world of difference in schools whose means are already well below that threshold.  The hard truth is that at some point being a well-rounded person ceases to compensate for not possessing quantifiably provable verbal and math skills.

And unlike what Soares and his cohort claim, I think most would agree that high school GPA does not ensure the same universality of assessment offered by tests such as the SAT because high school curricula are not created equal.  Although I grew up in a school district where we started learning how to write research papers in the third grade, some of my college classmates never had to write more than a single double spaced page at a time, and some were never required to read a book cover to cover in the course of their entire K-12 educations.

On the larger trend, we are not talking about straight A students at challenging high schools who happened to have the flu on test day, or who can’t afford to take test prep classes, or who don’t work well under pressure, as much as the test-optional proponents want us to believe this to be the case.  For the majority of those nearly 850 accredited institutions, this movement is about admitting students who are not prepared and quite possibly not capable of benefiting from a college level education.

Accepting students to college when they are not ready for college level course work is irresponsible and inexcusable.  It is time to get beyond the top schools in this discussion and consider the havoc test optional policies may wreak on the vast majority of higher ed institutions.  What seems like only a minor performance disparity outweighed by the benefits of “diversity” at schools like Wake Forest could spell the end to professional academic standards at lower ranking but still respectable institutions.

It also might be time for the proponents of test-optional admissions to stop and consider that maybe it really isn’t the test’s fault after all.  Low-scoring but worthy students ready to tackle college coursework are probably the exception rather than the rule. Admissions officers should use individual discernment and admit such students, when deserved, with full knowledge of how they scored. This is exactly why we have people, not mathematic algorithms, make admissions decisions in the first place.

More broadly, if certain groups are genuinely disadvantaged by these tests and underperform as researchers such as Soares and organizations like The National Center for Fair and Open Testing claim, we should continue to place emphasis on innovative solutions for K-12 reform instead of dispensing with standardized testing altogether.  The chances are that the most notable demographic gaps in the test results reflect a deficiency in education quality or testing support, both areas we can improve over time through reform, more than any inherent flaw with the objective test itself.  Not to mention that one of the primary methods used, including by the test skeptics listed above, to identify policy weaknesses and demographic disparities is the analysis of standardized test scores.  Without any form of universal achievement testing we risk missing demographic weaknesses altogether and could neglect the urgency to find solutions where legitimate problems exist.

The tests will never be perfect or comprehensive, but they continue to offer the most assured universal assessment of college preparedness, especially when considered alongside the many other factors traditionally used in admissions decisions.  To say that it is the test’s fault is both a juvenile and a nearsighted excuse. We do need to rethink college admissions, but implementing policies that let in more, not fewer, unprepared students is heading in the wrong direction – one that has no future in mind.

Cheating is the New Normal

A well-publicized cheating scandal at Great Neck High School featured a criminal entrepreneur taking SAT tests for college-bound high school students. My colleagues in the Academy tell me cheating is endemic with papers written by “service” organizations and plagiarism a national contagion. Teachers are routinely engaged in “scrubbing” various tests in an effort to increase the ratio of passing grades. The Atlanta school system was recently indicted for changing, student grades in an effort to improve the schools’ performance profile.

These stories invite the obvious question: Are conditions worse now than earlier?

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The Underperformance Problem

On average black students do much worse on the SAT and many other standardized tests than whites. While encouraging progress was made in the 1970s and early 1980s in improving black SAT scores and reducing the black/white test score gap, progress in this direction came to a halt by the early 1990s, and today the gap stands pretty much where it was twenty years ago. Whereas whites and Asians today average a little over 500 on the math and reading portions of the SAT, blacks score only a little over 400 — in statistical metric a gap of a full standard deviation. Only about one in six blacks does as well on the SAT as the average white or Asian.
This state of affairs is well known uncomfortable though it may be to bring up in public. Less well known is what in the scholarly literature is called “the underperformance problem.” Once in college blacks with the same entering SAT scores as whites and Asians earn substantially lower grades over their college careers and wind up with substantially lower class rankings. This gap in grade performance, moreover, is not reduced by adding high school grades or socio-economic status to the criteria for matching students. Blacks equally matched with whites or Asians in terms of their entering scholastic credentials and socio-economic backgrounds simply do not perform as well as their Asian and white counterparts in college. And the degree of underperformance is often very substantial.
This is contrary to what many people have been led to believe. Standardized tests are “culturally biased,” it is said, and do not fairly indicate the abilities or promise of racial minorities growing up outside the dominant white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon culture. Often this claim is bolstered by reciting items on long outdated verbal tests asking for the meaning of words like “regatta” or “cotillion” that only upper-class whites are likely to know. The implication is usually that those from minority cultures will do better in college in terms of grades than their test scores would predict. The “cultural bias” argument, however, is not only questionable on its face — since the clearly non-Anglo Saxon Asians do better than whites on most standardized tests of mathematical abilities including the SAT, while the equally non-Anglo Saxon Ashkenazic Jews outperform everyone else on tests of English verbal ability — but fails to account for the fact that in terms of grade performance blacks in college consistently do worse, not better, than their standardized test scores would predict. Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT overpredict, not underpredict, how well blacks will do in college, and in this sense the tests are predictively biased in favor of blacks, not against them.

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Gaming The College Rankings

Test prep pioneer Stanley H. Kaplan, who died this week at the ripe old age of 90, was a living embodiment of the roller coaster changes that have roared through the college admissions scene over the last three decades. He also set the stage for students, and later colleges and universities, to game the system.
Kaplan began his career intent on showing how the SAT, designed in such as way as to preserve the elitist nature of U.S. higher education, could become a vehicle for broadening access. In doing so he helped unleash forces leading to the current situation in which working the system is the norm for both institutions and applicants alike. Stanley Kaplan got the car rolling, climbed aboard and had one heck of a ride.
I first met Stanley Kaplan at an academic conference in the 1980s. He was the last person I would have picked out of the crowd as a test prep baron whose name was anathema to college admissions officers. He was short, gentle and avuncular in manner and, as I recall, dressed in what seemed to be battle fatigues. He was a born educator who wrote in his autobiography that “while other children played doctor, I played teacher.” It was Stanley Kaplan the teacher who began tutoring students for the New York State Regents exams in the basement of his Brooklyn apartment and giving them a shot at higher education.

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The SAT And Killing The Messenger

Average scores on the SAT dipped a bit for high school seniors who graduated in the class of 2009, and the usual suspects—our friends at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FAIR) are already using the lower scores to attack the whole idea of standardized testing, a platform that includes not only the SAT but also the No Child Left Behind Act, with its emphasis on improving test results.
The falloff from last year’s average scores was actually minimal: from 502 last year to 501 this year (out of a range from 200 to 800) on the critical-reading section of the SAT, no change from last year’s average math score of 515, and a one-point drop in the average score for the writing portion of the test, from 494 to 493.
What was striking about the score changes was the “widening” (as the press called it) of the score gap between male and female test-takers and between whites and Asian-Americans on one hand and blacks, American Indians, and Hispanics on the other. Average combined scores for whites fell by two points from last year, but it fell by four points for African-Americans, and it also slipped over last year for Indians and Hispanics. The biggest winners were Asian-Americans, whose average total combined score for all three parts of the SAT was a soaring 1635, compared with 1509 for all seniors in the class of 2009. Outstanding Asian math scores (587 was the average) accounted for most of the difference. Furthermore, males in the class of 2009 scored 27 points higher on average than females on the SAT this year, compared with 24 points higher last year. Again, the difference was largely due to far higher male scores on the math portion of the test.

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The End Of Merit-Based Admission

Students applying for college admission now face a new reality—the SAT is increasingly optional at our colleges and universities. The test-optional movement, pioneered by FairTest, a political advocacy group supported by George Soros and the Woods Fund—now list 815 schools that do not require SAT scores. That number may seem impressive, but it includes institutions that arguably should not be dependent on SAT scores at all, such as culinary institutes, seminaries and art schools.
Surprisingly, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) has joined the critics of the SAT. Its September 2008 report, lauded by the New York Times and Inside Higher Education, encouraged “institutions to consider dropping the admission test requirements if it is determined that the predictive utility of the test or the admission policies of the institution (such as open access) support that decision and if the institution believes that standardized test results would not be necessary for other reasons such as course placement, advising, or research” (italics in original).
If that sounds like a less than full-throated endorsement of the anti-testers, the reluctance to speak plainly is understandable. The SAT and ACT, the group now says, had been “interpreted by some as indications of the mental capacity of the individual test-taker as well as of the innate capabilities of ethnic groups.” Yet, when referring back to the SAT’s early years, they acknowledged its value as a tool for measuring the “academic potential of seniors at public high schools from all over the country who had not been specifically prepared” for admission to the nation’s top colleges.

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Score One For Yale

Yale made a sound decision yesterday. It said applicants must report all SAT scores, not just the highest of the three or four that some would-be Yalies take. That was the long-term policy of the College Board until last June, when Board officials announced they would let test-takers decide which scores to report. The stated reason was to reduce stress: if the student wasn’t up to par on testing day, he or she could always get tested again. But the policy also masked a financial reality—students from wealthier families could keep taking the test until they got the result they wanted; students from less well-off families often couldn’t. The predictive value of the test is marred by re-testing. And some who criticized the June decision pointed out that the Board had a financial stake: it stood to make more money by allowing unreported extra tests. Yale got it right. The class advantage of repeat test-takers will continue, but the fact of that advantage will now be clear and taken into account.

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays to our readers. We’d encourage you to catch up on material from recent months:
Wondering how to read College rankings? – When College Rankings Are A Marketing Ploy by Edward Fiske.
About the collapse of endowments? Ivy-Covered Hedge Funds by Joe Malchow
Looking for current arguments in the SAT debate?
Downgrading SATs Makes Sense by Peter Sacks
Does the SAT Predict College Success? by Peter Salins
And much more – check out our essays and keep informed.

Peter Salins In The New York Times

Peter Salins’s October 15 essay here , “Does the SAT Predict College Success?,” attracted attention from many quarters, including the New York Times. Today the Times’s op-ed page published a fresh version of the Salins piece, which reported that at the State University of New York (SUNY), the colleges that decided to require higher SAT scores for admission significantly boosted their graduation rates. The Times did not have room for a full identification of Salins, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and former provost of SUNY.

Downgrading SATs Makes Sense

Many conservatives are groaning over a major new report from a commission of higher education luminaries calling on colleges to de-emphasize the SAT for college admissions.

The catcalls from the right erupted after the National Association of College Admission Counseling suggested that colleges should rethink their reliance on the SAT for admissions. Wrongheaded, de-evolutionary, politically correct in the extreme, and void of common sense, the critics said the NACAC report is a frontal attack on academic standards and will lead to the ruin of American higher education.

We’ve heard the dire warnings before, countless times. And countless times the cries that the sky is falling have been wrong.

The defense of the SAT as the linchpin of the college admissions process contains at least two major propositions, both of questionable merit.

Continue reading Downgrading SATs Makes Sense

Does The SAT Predict College Success?

One of the hottest debates roiling American campuses today is whether the SAT and other standardized tests should continue to play a dominant role as a college admissions criterion. The main point of contention in this debate is whether the SAT or equivalent scores accurately gauge college preparedness, and whether they are valid predictors of college success, most particularly in comparison with high school grades. Behind this ostensible concern is the expressed fear that over-reliance on collegiate admissions tests will reduce “access” to college on the part of low-scoring applicants, many of them from poor or minority families and, thus, risk making American colleges and universities less demographically diverse.
First, let me address “access” and diversity: According to the most recent (2007) data, 45 percent of all colleges or universities, and 66 percent of public ones, have no admissions criteria at all. In the public sector – which accounts for three-quarters of all higher education slots – among the 34 percent of schools with some kind of admissions screen, 69 percent accept more than half of their applicants. Even among the remaining somewhat selective institutions, the majority either do not require admissions test scores or they accept most low-scoring applicants, with the result that the average verbal SAT for all college applicants is 532, and that for the math SAT is 537 (both out of a potential score of 800).
Second, regarding the sincerity of the most vociferous admissions test opponents: Virtually all of the schools calling for abandonment or down-grading of SATs and comparable admissions test have always been highly selective – and intend to remain so. There should be absolutely no confusion on this score. These places have no intention of becoming academically more diverse, meaning they are not planning to admit academically inferior poor or minority students. As predominantly rich institutions, they have an army of admissions officers able to pore over every applicant’s high school transcript and other evidence of academic ability to keep recruiting the best and brightest students, even absent admissions tests. Actually, even with their “test-optional” policies, they will have access to most applicants’ SAT scores anyway, because academically strong applicants will continue to take the tests to keep all their collegiate options open. If one were inclined to take a conspiratorial view of these institutions’ motives, one might suspect that they were mounting this concerted campaign to assure that America’s public colleges and universities remain unselective, derailing the rising admissions aspirations of those ambitious public institutions that threaten to cut into their current monopoly of gifted high school graduates.

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Abandoning The SAT: Why?

Fewer and fewer high school students are taking the SAT exam these days—possibly because fewer colleges are requiring the submission of SAT scores as part of the admissions process. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), an organization that admittedly opposes standardized tests, only 46 percent of graduating seniors in the high school class of 2008 had taken the SAT even once. That compares to the 47.5 percent of graduating seniors in 2005 who had taken the test, according to FairTest.

FairTest’s numbers are corroborated by news reports about the colleges and universities, many with top rankings, that are abandoning the SAT and its rival test, the ACT, in droves. Just a few days ago, Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Smith College in Massachusetts announced that they would no longer require their applicants to submit their scores on either the SAT or the ACT. The two well-regarded institutions added their names to an estimated 750 four-year colleges and universities that now regard the submission of SAT/ACT scores as optional. They include an array of top liberal-arts colleges such as Bard, Bowdoin, Mount Holyoke, Middlebury, and Wheaton. Among the very most selective schools, Harvard and Yale still require applicants to submit SAT scores, but at Princeton the scores are optional.

And now the prestigious University of California system, whose 220,000 students come from the top 12.5 percent of their high school graduating classes by a measure that combines SAT scores and high-school grades, has announced a plan, approved by the UC faculty and awaiting ratification by UC President Mark G. Yudof, that would eliminate the current requirement that prospective UC freshmen take the SAT II, a subject-specific achievement exam in such fields as U.S. history that is taken in addition to the SAT’s core aptitude tests in math, verbal skills, and reasoning. A proposal to drop mandatory submission of SAT scores entirely has been floating around the UC system since 2001. Large state universities, in contrast to small liberal arts colleges, have generally held the line on mandatory scores submission, but if California makes the scores optional, it is likely that many other public institutions will follow suit.

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Massaging The SAT News

“Scores Stable as More Minorities Take SAT” said the headline on today’s Washington Post story reporting the annual account of average SAT scores. Good news, right? No, just bad news presented in happy talk. “Class of ’08 Fails to Lift SAT Scores,” was the Wall Street Journal’s more accurate version of the story, which raised the question of whether the dismal scores will boost critics of the “No Child Left Behind” policy. The New York Times, like the Washington Post, opted for obfuscation: “Class of 2008 Matches ’07 on the SAT,” not mentioning that the 2007 scores were approximately the same as those of 2006, the lowest in three decades. This is like reporting “New York Mets’ Results Remain Stable, Matching Those of 2007 and 2006,” i.e., they lost again.

How Fair Is Your Test?

So, which news stories about the College Board’s new report on the addition of a writing section to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) do you believe?

Here’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“The results echo preliminary findings, released in April, that the new exam is just about as good as high school grades – and in some cases better – at predicting college freshman grades.”

And here’s New York Newsday:

“A new report on the SAT’s controversial writing section finds that it provides colleges with little help in predicting how well applicants will do during their first year on campus, beyond help provided by other data such as high school grades.”

It probably depends on which source you prefer to believe: the College Board itself, which evaluated data concerning about 150,000 students from 110 four-year colleges who have taken the SAT since the writing section was added in March 2005, or its chief critic, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based advocacy organization that has never met a standardized test it likes. Most of the news stories included quotations from FairTest spokesman Robert Schaeffer pooh-poohing the College Board’s conclusions. Many of the news stories also pointed to critics’ concerns that females, blacks and Hispanics continue to lag behind white males in SAT scores, raising the specter of “cultural insensitivity,” as the Washington Examiner put it.

True, the College Board report admitted that the new writing section, which adds 45 minutes to the SAT’s three-hour length and has driven its cost up to $45 this year from $28.50 in 2003, has boosted only slightly the SAT’s predictive value as to college freshmen’s academic success. The College Board also reminds colleges not to rely on SAT scores alone in making admissions decisions, but to look at a combination of SAT scores and high school grades. Still, the board insists that the “SAT continues to be an excellent predictor of how students will perform in their first year of college” and is a better predictor than high-school grades for all minority groups: blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Asians. And while the writing section may add only a little predictive value to the test, it is still “the most predictive of the three SAT sections” (the other two are the traditional verbal and quantitative sections),” not only overall but for all subgroups. At the very least, the College Board maintains, the SAT is a useful hedge against the grade inflation rampant at many high schools.

Continue reading How Fair Is Your Test?

Abandoning The SAT – Fraud or Folly?

What are we to make of the decision by a growing number of “highly selective” colleges to scrap the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as a criterion for college admission, something brought to our attention recently when another pair of semi-elite schools (Smith and Wake Forest) joined these ranks? The New York Times story of May 27 reporting on the Smith/Wake Forest developments explains the matter thus: “The number of colleges and universities where such tests are now optional… …has been growing steadily as more institutions have become concerned about the validity of standardized tests in predicting academic success, and the degree to which test performance correlates with household income, parental education and race.” If this is really what is driving the SAT defectors, they are deceiving themselves and misleading the public.

Let’s begin with predictive validity. Among the countless studies done on this subject over the years, not a single one has failed to find a high correlation between SAT scores and academic performance in college, as measured by grades or persistence. On a personal note, during my ten years as Provost of SUNY, I had my institutional research staff repeatedly review the relationship between SAT scores and academic success among our 33 baccalaureate campuses and their 200,000 + students, and found – as all the national research has confirmed – a near perfect correlation. SUNY schools and students with higher SAT profiles had higher grade point averages and markedly higher graduation rates.

The other claim of test critics is that high school grade point averages are equal to or better than SATs as predictors of college performance. This, too, is inaccurate. Looking at all U.S. high school graduates in any given year, we find the distribution of grade point averages (GPAs) is remarkably uniform – and invariably bell-shaped – across the nation despite enormous local and regional differences in high school quality or curricula. There is statistically no way that such similar high school GPA profiles could accurately reflect the highly variable academic abilities of the American high school graduating cohort. If there is any truth at all to the claims of SAT defectors in this regard, it is that among their own students – most of whom have graduated from academically superior public or private schools – SATs and high school GPAs are highly correlated. Analysts have pointed out, however, that if high school GPAs were to more generally replace SATs as the primary admissions criterion to get into top colleges, grade inflation would very likely erode the predictive validity of GPAs even at privileged public or private high schools.

Continue reading Abandoning The SAT – Fraud or Folly?

In Defense Of The SAT II

The Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, William Fitzsimmons, spoke out for SAT II tests at a recent panel at Harvard. The utility of the examinations has come into question as the University of California mulls dropping their SAT II application requirements. The Crimson reports on Fitzsimmons’ surprisingly spirited defense:

“The SAT IIs have been better predictors than either high school grades or the SAT [I],” he said.

However, the University of California panel’s proposal stated that the SAT II “contributes very little to UC’s ability to predict which applicants will perform well initially at UC.”

The panel also claimed that black and Hispanic applicants, as well as poorer applicants, were less likely to receive proper preparation that would enable them to perform well on the SAT II exams.

Fitzsimmons disagreed, saying that disadvantaged students sometimes perform better on SAT II tests.

“There happen to be people from poor and modest-income backgrounds who might be able to focus more on their actual subjects in school,” he said.

The SAT II examinations have always seemed a relative leveler to me – and simple numerical requirements a very flexible requirement. The exams gauge a certain seriousness of effort in particular subjects, which the enterprising student should not have difficulty selecting and anticipating. My SAT II experiences were not, on the main, especially reliant upon classroom preparation (I fared well on one exam for which I had no prior coursework) but rather test fundamentals about the subject that can often be picked up with independent study. They’re a useful, objective indication, to me, of a student’s effort at grasping a subject in some depth – a measure, to me, that seems far more relevant to college prospects than letter grades.

Of course, prior preparation is likely to be important for some or all of the tests required, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find students intent on middle-tier colleges who lacked adequate preparation in all sixteen of the test areas: Literature, U.S. History, World History, Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and nine languages. If that’s the case, there’s an argument for reforming a high school, not the UC admission standards. If the student’s mired in such a lamentable place, they can still study their way to better performance independently; Fitzsimmons seems to recognize exactly this. I’ve no doubt that admissions departments greatly value such demonstrations of ability from underperforming high schools. The SAT II requirement is one of the least objectionable demands for college applicants there are, demanding proof of rigor, but in a flexible format; hopefully UC might listen to Harvard and hold on to them.