Assessing the SAT

Assessing the SAT

Parents encourage their children to be themselves and do what's best for them, regardless of what their children's friends do, leading to the familiar rhetorical question: "If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?" For years, Colby has been one of the selective liberal arts colleges in the Northeast to require SAT reasoning test scores. As some others have dropped the requirement, Colby has stood atop the bridge, looking down, contemplating the pros and cons. Now, even as the new SAT has been rolled out, Colby continues to assess the test's importance in the admissions process.

By Ruth Jacobs

#whatsnewsat#right#70%#When admissions compares students from public and private schools, some without class ranks and many who benefit from grade inflation that is impossible to measure, the SAT (and its competitor, the ACT) provides the only piece of standardized data. "They [the SATs] help us in terms of evaluating students along a common yardstick applying from thousands of different schools around the world,— Beverage explained. That said, admission or denial rarely results from any one factor, including the SAT. While it's a valuable tool, Beverage explained, the SAT's success is measured by its ability to predict one thing: grade point average.

"The tests help to predict not only first-year performance but, believe it or not, performance over the four years at Colby,— said Beverage, noting that the four-year prediction is not in absolute but general terms. "We believe that the tests provide useful information in order to make fine distinctions in a highly selective process.—

Beyond predicting future GPA, the SAT may also signal inconsistencies in a student's application. When reading a file, admissions officers weigh various elements of a student's profile. In doing this, red flags sometimes fly—and the SAT is often what sends them up. For example, if a student has a B average in high school but earns close to 800 on all sections of the SAT, an admissions officer may conclude that this talented student sailed through high school without studying. If a student consistently earned high grades in English courses but scored low on the critical reading (previously verbal) section of the SAT, admissions might see this as an indication of grade inflation or less-than-challenging high school classes. And now, the new essay portion allows admissions to compare a raw writing sample to the application essay, which is often carefully edited and sometimes coached.

From the art of reading applications to the science of predicting grade point averages, Colby has found that in some respects the SAT works as advertised. Economics professors Michael Donihue and Randy Nelson have collaborated on two studies of the SAT at Colby specifically to assess it as a predictor of performance. Both studies concluded that the SAT does what it's supposed to do. "What we've found historically is that [the tests are] incredibly valuable for predicting first semester performance, for sure,— said Donihue. Specifically, controlling for other characteristics, in 2002, for every 100-point increase on the math section, a student's first-semester GPA increased .1 point and for every 100-point increase on the verbal section, a student's first-semester GPA increased to .2 points.