Wednesday, October 1, 2008

SAT optional?

To continue on the theme of testing from my recent post about general test ranking results in America, there is an article today about the value of the college prep tests, SATs, in The New York Times questioning them from various angles. Looks like not many colleges and universities are going to go SAT-optional in the near future. A few, of course, already are.

There is clearly a change in attitude to SATs and a certain skepticism that is new. SATs are supposed to predict "success" at institutions. Many studies show that learning to do them well indicates just that - you have learned how to take them. (And if your socio-economic educational background is very affluent, then you are likely to have a higher score.)

There are certainly questions admissions officers must learn to look at: what is nature of the student's character as a whole? In what circumstances was the student able to study for the admission test? Was the quality of the test prep material adequate to prepare for the test appropriately? Was the test administered properly, timed well and with proper materials? Does it suit the nature of the student's proposed and current studies? Can other measures be considered to better advantage than the standard test, such as student grades going back and extra-curriculars?

Looks like SATs will be around in the forseeable future unless all the colleges decide at once not to require them. I think they are likely to be more mandatory as the number of undergraduate international students increases to measure their likelihood of successful study in America.

Excerpts from today's article, "Study of Standardized Admissions Tests Is Big Draw at College Conference", by Sara Rimer:


Mr. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at
Harvard, led a commission of college admissions officials who drafted the study, which challenges colleges and universities to examine their use of the SAT and ACT and to consider whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages or whether they can make the tests optional for admissions.

...Mr. Fitzsimmons, who took center stage along with the other members of the commission, tried to ease the fears of the ardent supporters of the standardized admissions tests, taking pains to say that the SAT had many advantages.

...But he also affirmed what many of those present had been saying for years: that the SAT and other standardized admissions tests are “incredibly imprecise” when it comes to measuring academic ability and how well students will perform in college. He said colleges and universities needed to do much more research into how well the tests predict success at their individual institutions.

There has been longstanding debate and concern about the impact of standardized testing on socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and the ballroom erupted in applause when Mr. Fitzsimmons called for an end to the use of “cut scores” to determine who qualifies for National Merit and other scholarships. The practice means that one student is rewarded while excluding another whose SAT score may be only a single point lower, Mr. Fitzsimmons said.

What that single point differential fails to take into account, he said, is the context: The two students may have “lived entirely different lives, had entirely different educational opportunities and entirely different access to test prep.”

The audience also applauded Mr. Fitzsimmons’s call for U.S. News & World Report to stop using SAT scores as part of its college rankings.

...Jeffrey Brenzel, the dean of admissions at Yale, said the report raised key questions for every college and university: “Are you using the tests in a responsible manner and in the way they were intended? Is your use of the test relevant to your particular institution’s mission? Are there alternatives?”

...An audience member asked Mr. Fitzsimmons and the other college admissions officials on stage if any of them had changed their minds about the SAT and decided to go test-optional as a result of their participation in the study...

One by one, the other admissions officers gave variations of the same answer: We’re concerned about the inequities and possible misuses of the test. We’re going to keep studying it and talking about it, but the tests are useful for us, and we’re not going test-optional.*

The New York Times

Oct 1, 2008

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