This will be on the test – June 9 to June 22

Hot enough for you yet?

Several folks emailed me this Wall Street Journal Op-Ed about the declining use of the SAT for college admissions. Author Naomi Riley correctly points out the distinction between differential group impact and bias, and deftly summarizes the differing attitudes of the test prep giants Kaplan and the Princeton Review. Having dealt with representatives of both companies, I can attest to the veracity of her description.

Also sent along by several readers was this “criticism” of the SAT, which quickly devolves to the level of a conspiracy theory. I’m used to testing critics holding up the example of one college as “proof” that the SAT isn’t useful for predicting performance at any college. But claiming that a not-for-profit institution is, for the sake of profit, deliberately misrepresenting its content and deliberately choosing items to disadvantage certain students? In order to “spread out” the distribution of scores? That’s a new one for me. As I read it, his theory begins with the assumption that SAT scores would “clump” up and not be meaningful in the absence of biased items because everyone’s ability is so similar on the constructs taught in the classroom. Wow. I give him credit for managing to compress such a profound misunderstanding of item development, scaling, test assembly, testing companies, general psychometrics, and the state of modern education into such a short essay.

On a related note, many news outlets are reporting that the new SAT doesn’t predict college GPA any better than the old version. This particular article quotes the College Boards SVP of operations, Laurence Bunin, as noting that, despite the small rise in predictability, the addition of the writing component may have had a beneficial impact on high-school level writing classes. The College Board website also points out that the results show that the SAT is a better predictor than high school grades for minority college applicants. Interesting, then, the increasing number of colleges who have recently ditched the SAT in order to “diversify” their campuses.

Oh, and if you think you might want to take the SAT multiple times, but don’t want colleges to see your, um, “practice” takes? Starting in 2009-10, that’ll be no problem.

Plenty of methods have been suggested to help make kids more optimistic about their educational future and more motivated about taking tests. Here’s one of the more interesting ones.

Strange news from my old stomping grounds – the Chapel Hill-Carrboro (NC) school district is considering implementing one heck of a floor effect. Even if an assignment is not turned in or a test is not taken, 61 is the lowest grade that can be given? The district’s director of programs has a bizarre explanation for the plan, which is that giving really low scores won’t help failers get better. Technically, I guess that’s true, but forcing the lowest score to be a 61 doesn’t actually help someone who’s doing terrible work to get better either. It just raises their average, not their understanding. Once again, the messenger is being confused with the message.


  1. The Chapel-Hill thing doesn’t surprise me. For many years, the school district where my husband teaches has put a limit on the lowest grade a teacher could enter into a report card. They set the limit at 50. Smart but lazy students have been taking advantage of this for years. Even if they do no work during a quarter they get a 50. So they work hard for half the year and slack off at the end once they have enough of a cushion to still pass. It’s a joke.

  2. It is hard to be a fan of ETS. They charge students far more than is necessary for testing in order to maintain a bloated bureaucracy, and many of their top executives have displayed a level of arrogance seldom seen in the world of higher education.

    However, the SAT is and has been for many years, a pretty good predictor of college success. Not perfect, but pretty good.

    For many colleges, ACT or SAT scores are a big help, along with numerous other factors, in selecting the freshman class. College admissions personnel understand both the limits and the value of standardized test scores. Therefore, instances of deserving students being denied educational opportunity because of marginal ACT or SAT scores alone are very rare, despite the myths to the contrary.

  3. linda seebach says:

    Kimberly says, “The College Board website also points out that the results show that the SAT is a better predictor than high school grades for minority college applicants. Interesting, then, the increasing number of colleges who have recently ditched the SAT in order to ‘diversify’ their campuses.”

    “Better predictor” is not the same as “predictor of better grades.” If the SAT predicts, accurately, that a college’s minority applicants will do badly, then wouldn’t the college have to ditch the SAT in order to increase the enrollment of minorities while denying that it was using a lower standard for them?

  4. It’s simple business. Students = revenue. The more students admitted, the more revenue. Unlike the public schools, universities are not responsible for keeping students from failing or dropping out, which leads us to the dirty little not-so-secret secret: Most underprepared students do not complete degrees. This isn’t something you usually see discussed, other than on campus (hence not-so-secret secret). There’s always a few hand wringing articles in the student paper every year, and the administration either sets up a task force, or departments do, to study retention, but universities aren’t willing to confront the conflict between a more diverse and successful student body and lowering standards, so they don’t, and the issue remains as it was five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.

  5. Minority students are often at schools where even “A” in a course does not necessary mean master of the material. So it is not surprising that SAT is a better predictor than school grade.

    Ditching the SAT to increase minority enrollment would be stupid, because College want to pick among the URM who can handle the college courses rather than randomly pick some URM.

  6. Kelly A. Mezick says:

    I know when I applied to colleges nearly three years ago, my high school GPA –for the schools I was applying to (all in the South) –was average while my ACT score was above average. It was while I was filling out pages and pages of online applications, explaining personal and academic achievements that it all finally dawned on me: after I was accepted, what did it really matter if I was President of my class, Captain of Scholars Bowl, or a member of the French Club? After I got accepted to all three of my schools, and finally decided on and attended Auburn University, I found the answer to that very question: it all meant absolutely nothing. None of my college instructors know what I made in eleventh grade history or how many extracurriculars I participated in. While it all seemed so important in high school to listen to your guidance counselors and be involved in everything and strive to do and be your very best in every subject, in the end, none of it really mattered. I think schools put so much pressure on GPAs and standardized tests scores, that by the time students actually make it to college, they are completely burnt out by “the system” and might even feel a slight loss at why no one cares they were treasurer of their high school art club.

    Should we have standardized tests? Absolutely. Should they make or break a student’s admittance or denial to college? Absolutely not. There has to be a better balance in this country than what presently exists.

    Kelly A. Mezick
    Auburn University
    Auburn, Alabama

  7. Andromeda says:

    Hate to nitpick, but your second-to-last link is broken; too many https.


  1. […] universities’ making SAT scores optional for admission or dropping them entirely; today, Kimberly Swygert pointed to this article in the WSJ. Many of the articles about this topic have been of the moaning […]