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


 
#newsat#left#45%#Stories about people who bombed the SAT and excelled in college abound, and many think that means the test doesn't work. But Freeman, who uses statistics to analyze the SAT, explains that the exceptions don't mean that the test is flawed. "It's designed to predict groups and, on average, it does a good job,— he said.

But the SAT doesn't incorporate other factors, like how happy a student is, how involved she or he is on campus, whether the student is in the most appropriate major, or other pieces of a complicated puzzle that results in a student's overall achievement. It also does not predict what kind of impact a student will make on campus life—a piece that's critically important in a small community like Colby's.

Many of the roughly 400 colleges with SAT-optional policies are liberal arts colleges similar to Colby. Since making the SAT optional, some of those colleges have reported dramatic increases in their applicant pools. A recent Bates study found that the college almost doubled its applicant pool since dropping the SAT requirement 20 years ago. Colby's applicant pool increased by 32 percent during that period, and both schools now receive about 4,000 applications a year.

National studies have shown that students of color traditionally score lower than white students on the SAT and use the optional testing policy at higher than average rates. Bates reports that it increased its enrollment of students of color by 148 percent and international students by 1,125 percent (from eight to 98 students) in that 20-year period. (Colby increased enrollment of students of color by 250 percent and international students by 448 percent—25 to 137 students—in the same period.) Mount Holyoke, which dropped the requirement in 2001, found that students of color were less likely to submit test scores when given the option.

While students of color and students from lower socioeconomics status, on average, score lower on the SAT, Beverage also sees the individual cases. As someone who reads every folder every year, he said, "There are plenty of students who are from lower socioeconomic strata . . . who can score and do score high on the SATs. There may be some bias [in the tests], and I can't deny that. I think we use them prudently.—

Colby's student body continually boasts mean SAT scores rivaling its peer schools. And, unlike at SAT-optional schools, Colby's mean scores are based on the inclusion of every incoming student's score. Peer schools that don't require SATs are able to compile mean test scores based solely upon those scores they received—i.e., generally the higher ones.
#satpolicies#right#45%#National studies continue to show that the SAT does not accurately predict male versus female performance in college. According to The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest, females earn higher grades in high school and college yet score lower on the SAT. The College Board, which owns the test, does not dispute the figures but maintains that the point spread between males and females (39 points in 2002, which is typical) is not significant. Even at Colby, incoming women's SAT scores are lower than men's, while graduating women's GPAs are higher than men's. Donihue points out that there are other factors that could help predict GPA. He mentions, for example, that women acclimatize faster to college life and that they gravitate to fields that better suit them. Others who have studied this issue have found various reasons for women's scores being less accurate at predicting first-year GPA.

These discrepancies are among the reasons Colby doesn't use cutoffs (automatic denial of admission to students below a certain score or guaranteed admission to students above a certain score) and weighs many factors on a case-by-case basis. Even so, Colby's student body continually boasts mean SAT scores rivaling its peer schools. And, unlike at SAT-optional schools, Colby's mean scores are based on the inclusion of every incoming student's score. Peer schools that don't require SATs are able to compile mean test scores based solely upon those scores they received—i.e., generally the higher ones.

Mean SAT scores are used in many outside sources—guidebooks and rankings—to rate schools. If Colby made the SAT optional, "the publicly reported average would increase at Colby probably less than 100 points but more than 10 points,— Freeman said. This boost in mean scores could result in a jump (or a hop, anyway) in the rankings. "It is likely that we would go up,— said Freeman. "There's certainly no guarantee, since it only comprises one part of the U.S. News ranking.—

To abolish the SAT requirement for the purpose of affecting rankings would mean a divergence from Colby's core mission, which includes doing everything possible to maintain excellence in education and student life without changing policies based on extraneous factors like rankings. If Colby were to drop the SAT requirement, it would have to be for one reason: to make the College stronger.
 
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