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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

SAT/ACT scores predict success, open doors for 'diverse' students

Want equity? Require college applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times.

The progressives' "war on the SAT" is misguided, he writes. Research increasingly shows that test scores are strong predictors of college grades, graduation and post-college success. Grade inflation has made high school grades a weak predictor of success, according to Opportunity Insights research and a University of California analysis.

“Standardized test scores are a much better predictor of academic success than high school grades,” Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, recently wrote. Stuart Schmill — the dean of admissions at M.I.T., one of the few schools to have reinstated its test requirement — told me, “Just getting straight A’s is not enough information for us to know whether the students are going to succeed or not.”

"If test scores are used as one factor among others — and if colleges give applicants credit for having overcome adversity — the SAT and ACT can help create diverse classes of highly talented students," Leonhardt writes.

Without scores, admissions officers at elite colleges have to guess whether applicants are prepared for college. Often they favor those from high-performing private or suburban schools with a track record of preparing students for challenging schools. Applicants who made the honor roll at No Name High can't compete.

"Holistic" admissions has "larger racial and economic biases," he writes. "Affluent students can participate in expensive activities, like music lessons and travel sports teams," plus overseas "community service" trips. They can get educated parents, teachers or paid counselors to polish their essays.

While affluent families can pay for test prep, "these advantages cause a very small part of the gaps," Leonhardt writes.

When my daughter worked as an SAT tutor, she saw only marginal improvement for her tutees. Overwhelmingly, what mattered was their K-11 education and their work ethic, she said.

Progressives don't want to believe the evidence, writes Leonhardt. Shooting the messenger is easier. He notes all measures of learning show similarly large racial and economic gaps, despite the absence of test prep. "The disparities in SAT scores are a symptom, not a cause, of inequality in the U.S.,” said Raj Chetty, a Harvard economics professor who conducted the recent Ivy Plus study.

Americans see standardized testing as fair, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Thirty-nine percent say colleges should consider standardized tests as a "major factor" when making admissions decisions and another 46 percent say scores should be a "minor factor." Only 14 percent want to ignore scores.

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