Colleges question SAT value in admissions

The long days of studying vocabulary, answering questions about reading comprehension passages, and figuring out missing variables for the SATs may soon be over.

This past week, a special panel convened by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has encouraged colleges to consider dropping the SAT or ACT as admissions requirements and instead put more focus on high school achievement. The panel has asked colleges to formally consider whether they really need testing as part of their admissions requirement, and if not, to either drop the requirement or to make it optional.

The commission’s report to get rid these tests was based on a yearlong study of the admissions process, led by William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University.
The gradual changes that have taken place both on the actual test and on societal labels of what test results infer have added to the reasoning behind the NACAC’s proposal to make the tests optional.
Shifts in opinion can be seen by juxtaposing past and present NACAC statements.

In 1995, the NACAC felt that when used properly, these tests have the ability to help admission professionals make good decisions of admittance and can also help students choose where to apply.
Yet this year, the NACAC commission, led by Fitzsimmons, has dramatically changed its opinion. According to the panel, standardized testing has been dominated by the media, commercial interests, and business tactics outside of the college admission office.

Milton Cofield, an associate teaching professor of business management in the Tepper School of Business, commented on the level to which standardized testing has become a business ploy.
“A few years ago, college admissions was about a student selecting a few colleges that they were interested in and applying to those,” Cofield said. “Now it is also about students selecting colleges that they ‘should’ be interested in based upon the use of data from rating and ranking organizations. This may have significantly clouded the college selection.”

Cofield noted that college rankings have become a huge part of the larger picture of college applications. SAT scores are included in these college rankings, and many students turn to these statistics and standardized test scores to determine in which pool they belong.

Stephanie Guerdan, a first-year Japanese major, spoke of the possible effects of changing college admissions criteria.

Guerdan thinks getting rid of SATs would encourage many more students to apply to schools that they would not have previously. Guerdan said that many students look at SAT score ranges and are deterred from applying to schools that they think are “too good for them.” However, if these scores were not part of the picture anymore, then more students would be encouraged to apply to the schools they want to.

According to the study done by the commission, more than 280 four-year colleges do not require standardized test scores for admission. An increasing number of colleges and universities such as Bates College in Maine, Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Wake Forest University in North Carolina, and Smith College in Massachusetts have made the SAT and the ACT optional. The NACAC concludes that many other institutions could make admissions decisions without requiring the SAT and ACT.

Carnegie Mellon has no current plans to change its admissions criteria.

While the College Board has repeatedly released reports showing the value of the SAT, many others have argued for the promotion of other important admission criteria rather than standardized tests.
Professor Jeffrey Squires, an Interpretation and Argument professor in H&SS, noted his distrust of the tests as indicators of student knowledge.

“It is difficult to judge an individual’s intelligence by any standardized means,” Squires said. “By my evaluations as an instructor, I am neither privy to their SAT scores nor greatly interested in them. Given the host of eclectic minds which make up my students — artistic, empirical, and many others — I can be assured that the SAT and ACT requirements have no means of evaluating their intellect other than providing a normative notion of success.”

Student opinions on the matter are mixed.

“I went through [the SATs], so I feel like it’s an important part, and I do feel like it helps to judge your knowledge. Even if somebody is a bad test-taker or just can’t do well on standardized tests, the majority of people can be measured using these tests,” Guerdan said.

On the other hand, Crystal Wray, a first-year Chinese and economics double major, felt that making the SAT optional is a progressive step.

“I feel that the SAT simply judges one’s ability of test-taking rather than his intelligence. Some people are just good at taking standardized tests, and others are not, so the test isn’t fully ‘standardized,’ ” Wray said.

As for the future of standardized testing in college admissions, there remains no set decision for all colleges and universities. However, discussion on the tests’ value will continue.