High Marks for SAT


A Colby task force on the use of standardized tests in the admissions process concluded a comprehensive review this winter and decided that the College should stick with the SAT or ACT requirement for at least three years.

By S.C.

"All the other measures are declining in value," said Goldfarb Distinguished Professor of American Government and task force chair G. Calvin Mackenzie. The panel's recommendation, that Colby spend three years evaluating the new three-part SAT and testing a parallel evaluation system that doesn't use the tests, was accepted by President William Adams.

With national controversy around standardized college entrance examinations and after most of Colby's closest competitors have made submission of SAT scores optional, President Adams appointed the task force last fall. Members of the task force spoke to officials from colleges that have dropped standardized testing requirements and found that most said they would go back to requiring SATs if they could but, politically, they can't, Mackenzie said.

In an interview Mackenzie ticked off a list of reasons for the recommendation. First, with the new writing sample as part of the SAT Reasoning Test, the College needs time to determine its value. Also, "When you look at the role the SAT score plays in our admissions process, it's pretty small," he said. But test scores do remain a valid predictor of students' first-year GPAs, he said, and dropping them from the mix would diminish Colby's ability to build the best qualified class.

Mackenzie said other criteria available to admissions officers are becoming less useful. He cited inconsistencies in GPAs from school to school, problems with grade inflation in high schools, and difficulties comparing class rank information. He also noted that, given increased international recruiting, it's hard to find a yardstick other than the SAT that measures all applicants consistently.

Ultimately, requiring the test appeals to students who did well on it. "It's a measure of the rigor of your process," Mackenzie said.

The recommendation to re-examine the admissions testing issue in 2009 gives Colby three years to evaluate the new three-part SAT Reasoning Test as well as time to construct and test a predictive model that does not rely on the SATs to see if there is an effective substitute.
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