Other campus: SAT should be studied (Stanford)

By The Stanford Daily

(U-WIRE) STANFORD, Calif. – For decades the SAT has been the gatekeeper for admission to elite colleges and universities. Testing advocates assert that the SAT levels the college admissions playing field and provides schools with a uniform standard by which to judge their applicants. However, evidence indicates that the SAT is not the “great equalizer” that its proponents have long claimed.

Research conducted by Educational Testing Services, the company that creates the SAT, has demonstrated that the test consistently underpredicts the grades of women and certain minority groups. One study found that on average the SAT overpredicts males’ grades by more than a tenth of a point and underpredicts females’ grades by an even greater amount. In fact, males average 42 points higher than females on the SAT, yet receive lower grades in both high school and college. So far, ETS has yet to offer an explanation for why the test creates this discrepancy.

The validity of the test is even more questionable in a socioeconomic context. On the 2004 SAT, students whose families earned over $100,000 per year scored an average of 1115 on the SAT, while those whose families earned less than $10,000 per year averaged only 872.

Certainly the quality of elementary and secondary schools that students attend has a significant impact on their SAT scores, and this likely explains some of the discrepancy in scores. However, the test is not taken in a vacuum: many students also bolster their scores by taking preparation courses. Such courses are both effective (boasting average improvements of around 150 points) and expensive (costing nearly $1,000 at companies such as the Princeton Review). It seems somewhat naive to view the SAT as a means of truly leveling the playing field when students from more privileged backgrounds can use their economic resources to raise their scores.

Modifications to the SAT’s format, which took effect this past March, have made these fairness issues even more salient. The biggest change is the addition of an essay section designed to assess students’ writing skills. Although such skills are undeniably important, testing experts have raised concerns about whether in practice the essay will provide a fair assessment of these skills.

Certainly, there are compelling arguments for continuing to use the SAT. No other tool exists to allow college admissions officers to compare students from vastly different backgrounds. Given the variation in high schools’ curricula, grades and class rank can offer only so much information. And, at schools such at Stanford that receive upwards of 20,000 applicants each year, the SAT provides a way to screen applicants efficiently, thereby keeping administrative costs relatively low.

However, the question remains whether these arguments for using the SAT outweigh the many serious concerns about the test’s fairness.

Staff Editorial

The Stanford Daily (Stanford)