New Story in the Poughkeepsie Journal about the shifting role of the SAT and other standardized tests, among college admissions offices.
Saturday, Oct. 3, was the day for number two pencils and compounded teenage angst, and marked the first weekend of testing for the 2015 fall SAT.
The Scholastic Aptitude Test is a major point of contention for prospective college students in need of high scores to impress college admissions offices, which hold their respective futures in the balance. 2015 is also the last year of the old SAT. Beginning in March 2016, the new reformatted SAT will take effect.
The importance of this transition resides in the debate over how fair and accurate the SAT has been in determining a students’ college readiness. Historically, the SAT has been a significant deciding-factor for college admissions offices around the country that receive the bulk of their applications every fall. However, the role of standardized tests among admissions offices is beginning to change.
National average test scores for the SAT in 2015, were the lowest on record since the test was last overhauled in 2005.
Additionally, 850 Colleges and Universities, including 195 top-tier schools have adopted test-optional admissions policies, subsequently de-emphasizing the burden of standardized tests for applicants. The greater question being: how does the SAT and ACT fit-in to the pedagogical ethos of today’s America?
The College Board and ACT Inc., are worth millions of dollars in large part due to the dissemination of their tests. They were also conceptualized in eras of antiquated socioeconomic environments—by today’s standards. Throughout their history, these tests have been accused of inherent biases against women, minorities, and low-income families, creating a barrier to access for many students.
Bob Schaeffer has served as Public Education Director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing since its founding in 1985.
“We work with schools who are reviewing their admissions policies to see if they can do better. Because of the flaws in the SAT and ACT, neither test is a good predictor of undergraduate success. High school grades have proven to more accurately forecast who is more likely to graduate college, than either test does.”
Schaeffer argues that test scores are strongly linked to family income, supporting the argument that families who can afford to spend money on expensive test-prep courses, have a disproportionate leg-up on lower-income families.
The argument of measuring an academic standard inequitably, has led a growing number of colleges and universities to adopt test-optional admissions policies.
Keith Morton is an Associate Professor of American Studies at Providence College, a school that experimented with this policy in 2006.
“We went test-optional for two big reasons. Number one, it’s not a good predictor of college success. The best predictor was somebody’s high school record, and the SAT didn’t seem to have a particularly strong correlation for if they would do well once they got there. The other reason was that the SAT was a barrier to access for a lot of students.” PC feared that it was not offering capable students the opportunity to receive the level of education they deserved.
“As the economic and social diversity of our applicants grew, we didn’t see any changes in persistence and graduation rates. So from our point of view, it’s been a real success.” Morton adds.
Across the nation however, most schools are not test-optional in their admissions policies. Especially for large public universities that receive a large volume of applicants, standardized test scores are an important factor in deciding acceptance circumstances.
New York University consciously worked around this issue in 2010, when they went test-flexible—allowing students to choose which tests to submit for review, as opposed to being bound to a select few.
“With more than 60,000 annual applications for admission, we believe we need quantifiable data to help make our admissions decisions.” Says Shawn Abbott, Assistant Vice President and Dean of Admission at NYU. “I don’t think we can afford to ignore standardized testing entirely, but I think most colleges and universities will likely move in the direction of becoming more flexible in what tests are required.”
Still, the SAT and ACT have work to do in the way of providing the most fair and equitable tests possible. The new SAT is a step in that direction, though it remains to be criticized, as Bob Schaeffer recalls seeing this trend in the past.
“They (College Board) have overhauled this test before, and it hasn’t made the process any easier. Raising the bar and yelling jump higher, doesn’t help kids jump higher. The great appeal of test optional admissions, is that it returns a little bit of power in the crazy admissions process, back to the teenagers.”