Study questions SAT’s admissions value

Students who submit standardized test scores don't show higher success rates

There is no significant difference in the success rates of students who submit standardized test scores to colleges and those who don’t. That’s the summary of a NACAC report, “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” which looked at nearly 123,000 students at 33 public and private institutions of all sizes.

“The differences between submitters and nonsubmitters are five one-hundredths of a GPA point, and six-tenths of one percent in graduation rates,” the report reads.

The report comes on the heels of word from College Board President and CEO David Coleman that a revised SAT is coming in spring 2016. Revisions include returning to a 1600-point scale from the current 2400, changing the kind of vocabulary words tested and making the essay portion (added in 2005) optional.

“The recent reinvention of the SAT, to me, was a competitive move in some ways,” says journalist Anya Kamenetz, whose upcoming book, The Test (PublicAffairs, 2015) will cover the history and future of standardized testing.

“SAT has lost ground to the ACT. The ACT has successfully marketed itself to school districts. But in the bigger picture, I think these tests, and all the tricks and traps that go along with them, are not that important,” Kamenetz says. “It’s not, independently, particularly very predictive of kids’ success in college, which in turn is not necessarily that predictive of their success in life.”

The NACAC report echoes growing criticism that the tests do little more than feed a multibillion dollar test prep and tutoring industry.

“There’s nothing analytical about the SAT. You are basically regurgitating information,” notes Richard Johnson, an associate professor at the University of San Francisco who focuses on social equity and human rights within public policy and administration. The tests aren’t geared toward low-income families, which is why a number of colleges are getting away from using the SAT as a college success indicator, he says.

More than 800 institutions aren’t emphasizing test scores when admitting students, according to FairTest. The group believes high school performance—expressed as grades or class rank—is the best available screening device for applicants.


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