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Jettison the SAT

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   3 comments
Message Patrick Mattimore

In 2002, the College Board ended Score Choice- a policy that allowed high school students to submit their best SAT Subject scores to colleges and hide poor results. At that time, according to a story in The New York Times published this past week, a representative of the College Board said “that ending Score Choice would be fairer to low-income and minority students, who did not have the resources to keep taking the test.”

In announcing a resumption of the Score Choice policy for students who will graduate high school in 2010, Laurence Bunin, a senior vice president with the College Board and the general manager of the SAT I, said that Score Choice “simply allows students to put their best foot forward.”

The College Board’s forked-tongue message is that only well-heeled feet need apply.

The SAT has been steadily losing market-share in the prestigious college admissions’ test business to the ACT, which has long had a “best test” submission policy. Competitive colleges that require an admission’s test will accept either the SAT or the ACT.

The College Board denied that competition with the ACT was the reason for its policy change but, in an internal e-mail memo written by Bunin and reported in Newsweek Magazine last month, he “referred to ‘less kids taking SAT,’ thereby ‘threatening the validity of the program itself’.”

So, while the College Board dresses its policy change as benevolence toward students, the reality is that the decision to resume Score Choice is Machiavellian.

The College Board’s attempts to wring more dollars out of high school students, frantic to burnish college applications with a few extra SAT points, might well be regarded for what it is- a last-ditch effort to salvage a test that many individuals, colleges, and organizations believe has outlived its usefulness.    

A decade ago, Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, authored the definitive book about the SAT, “The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy.” Lemann subsequently said that our “culture of obsession about the SATs” is “creepy and unhealthy.”

In 2007, Charles Murray, co-author of “The Bell Curve” and longtime supporter of IQ measures such as the SAT I, suggested that the time had come for colleges to discontinue requiring students to take that test. Murray called the SAT I a totem for the upper classes and proposed that admissions’ offices would be better served by requiring students to submit standardized subject tests.    

Fair Test, a national watchdog agency, generally opposed to the use of the SAT I in college admissions, reports that over 775 four-year colleges do not use the SAT I to admit substantial numbers of bachelor degree applicants. More colleges make the SAT I optional every year.

In 2008, top-ranking institutions, Smith College and Wake Forest University, announced that they would no longer require the SAT I.

Last fall, a widely publicized committee report issued by the National Association for College Admission Counseling recommended that colleges take a hard look at whether those schools needed to continue requiring the SAT I. In its stead, the committee encouraged universities to consider requiring standardized subject exams. Although the committee did not specifically endorse the ACT, that test is widely considered to be more closely aligned with high school curricula than the SAT I and therefore a fairer measure of what students should have learned in high school.

The SAT I is an intelligence test that does a poor job predicting how students will do once they get to college, which is the test’s raison d'être. Even the College Board’s own studies indicate that both a student’s high school grades and performance on standardized subject tests better predict subsequent academic performance than does the SAT I. Colleges should jettison the SAT.

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Freelance journalist; fellow, Institute for Analytic Journalism.
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