Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Eliminating the SAT: disadvantaging the left-brainers

A commission convened by some of the country’s most influential college admissions officials is recommending that colleges and universities move away from their reliance on SAT and ACT scores and shift toward admissions exams more closely tied to the high school curriculum and achievement.
So reports yesterday's New York Times.

The commission, convened by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, cites three concerns.  In the words of study leader William R. Fitzsimmons,  the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University:

(1) "test scores appear to calcify differences based on class, race/ethnicity and parental educational attainment."

(3) "the contrast between opportunities and fancy suburbs and some of the high schools that aren’t so fancy"

(3) "academic research that suggests that test preparation and coaching results in an increase of 20 to 30 points on the SAT"

As a result of such concerns, the Times writes:
A growing number of colleges and universities, like Bates College in Maine, Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Smith College in Massachusetts, have made the SAT and ACT optional. And the report concludes that more institutions could make admissions decisions without requiring the SAT and ACT.
More than 280 four-year colleges do not require standardized test scores for admission, according to the study.
According to Mr. Fitzsimmons, Harvard may be next.

The report's recommendations:

1. Institutions should "consider dropping admission test requirements unless they can prove that the benefits of such tests outweigh the negatives."

2. "what is needed is a new achievement test, pitched to a broad group of students, that would predict college grades as well as or better than available tests."

Such an achievement test, the report claims, would (quoting the Times quoting the report):
“encourage high schools to broaden and improve curricula,” and would also send a message to students to focus on their high school course material instead of on test preparation courses.
OILF's concerns:

Re the new achievement test:

1. The original point of the SATs was to open up college admissions to students who didn't come from fancy schools and who were thereby disadvantaged in subject-area college admissions tests.  Why would replacing the SATs with a new achievement test make things any more equitable?  To the extent that the proposed new test encourages the weaker high schools "to broaden and improve curricula," such changes take years, if not decades, to put into place, let alone to trickle down to actual students.

2. The influence may just as likely go in the other direction, with the power brokers in the education establishment, rather than reforming the schools, retrofitting the new achievement test--with all the predictable results.  E.g.: assessing students not on doing hard math and science, but on how well they communicate about math and science.

Re assigning greater weight to grades: 

1. As I've argued here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here the latest pedagogical priorities have made it harder and harder for even--and sometimes especially--the smartest left-brainers to earn good grades.

2. For such students, the SAT is increasingly the one recourse for distinguishing themselves academically and, therefore, for gaining admission to selective colleges.


Nancy Bea Miller said...

Hi Lefty! You write "The original point of the SATs was to open up college admissions to students who didn't come from fancy schools and who were thereby disadvantaged in subject-area college admissions tests." But that has backfired. I live in an area chock full of such "fancy" schools and those schools provide SAT coaching classes as do the scores of high end SAT tutoring businesses everywhere you turn in this neighborhood. A friend of mine's daughter raised her SAT score dramatically after taking one of these costly courses. Which I doubt are as readily available to kids from "disadvantaged" homes. Back to a very unlevel playing field? Just a thought!

Lsquared said...

I wouldn't worry too much. I'd bet that the colleges throwing out SATs are most likely the liberal arts colleges. I'd be really surprised if CalTech or MIT or Harvey Mudd were throwing out SAT/ACTs. Which elite school is an autistic kid likely to find more friendly--the one that wants lots of essays, or the one devoted to science and engineering? I'm sure there are exceptions, but by and large, I suspect that the most autistic-friendly schools will keep the SATs.

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