Value of SAT test questioned

October 15, 2004

The value of the SAT as a predictor for academic performance has been thrown into question by a US college that has ceased to demand that applicants take the test.

Bates College, in the New England state of Maine, was the first mainstream US university to stop requiring applicants to take the SAT, which has been a near-universal element in university admissions. Bates found no difference in graduation rates between students who continued to submit their test scores and those who did not.

The college made SATs optional for admission in October 1984. Since then, it has kept track of about 7,000 students to see how well they fared after their acceptance.

The study, which was presented to the annual conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counselling in Milwaukee, found that the difference in graduation rates between students who submitted their SAT scores and those who did not was one-tenth of 1 per cent.

The difference in the students' grade-point average was five-hundredths of a point.

Many students appear to prefer applying to a school that does not require SAT scores and Bates has nearly doubled its applicant pool since making the test optional.

More than 400 other US schools have dropped the SAT requirement since Bates took the lead, although most large universities continue to demand it.

At Bates, more non-white than white students have opted not to submit their test scores, as have students who speak another language at home, including many from the large population of French-Canadians who live in the northeast of the US.

"They speak French at home and are carrying two grammars, vocabularies and syntaxes in their heads," said William Hiss, the Bates vice-president who presented the findings.

There was one other difference between students who submitted their scores when they applied and those who did not: the students who did not were less likely to go on to graduate programmes that required entrance exams, such as medicine, law and business administration, indicating that they may believe themselves to be poor test-takers. "Are these the best students, or just the best test-takers?" Mr Hiss asked.

He called the issue nothing less than "a fundamental question of social ethics and social policy: who gets to go to college, and what are the definitions of intelligence and achievement that a college, or a society, signals to young people by what it requires for admission".

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