7/14/2007

Charles Murray: Get rid of the SATs

Can I believe that the SAT scores correlate very highly with the achievement tests? Sure. The correlation though isn't perfect (.83 is high, but it isn't that high and there will surely be cases where the SATs add critical information). The question how big that benefit is relative to the cost and I don't think that Murray really answers that question.

There is good reason to think that a world in which achievement tests have replaced the SAT is not going to be a world in which motivated high-ability students from bad or mediocre schools have less opportunity to get into the college where they belong. It may be a marginally worse world for a small number of unmotivated high-ability students who want to attend selective colleges, but that outcome is not necessarily undesirable.

But why get rid of the SAT? If it works just about as well as the achievement tests in predicting college success, what’s the harm in keeping it?

The short answer is that the image of the SAT has done a 180-degree turn. No longer seen as a compensating resource for the unprivileged, it has become a corrosive symbol of privilege. “Back when kids just got a good night’s sleep and took the SAT, it was a leveler that helped you find the diamond in the rough,” Lawrence University’s dean of admissions told The New York Times recently. “Now that most of the great scores are affluent kids with lots of preparation, it just increases the gap between the haves and the have-nots.”
Almost every parent with whom I discuss the SAT believes these charges. In fact, the claims range from simply false, in the case of cultural bias, to not-nearly-as-true-as-you-think, in the case of the others. Take coaching as an example, since it seems to be so universally accepted by parents and has been studied so extensively. . . . .


UPDATE: From a reader:

WELL, ACTUALLY IT IS NOT A BIG DEAL WHEN YOU HAVE THE SUBJECT TESTS, TOO. OF COURSE SOMEBODY WHO SCORES HIGH ON THE SAT II MATH TEST (EITHER LEVEL) IS ALSO A PERSON WHO SCORES HIGH ON THE REGULAR, EASIER ONE. THE TOP SCHOOLS STRONGLY SUGGEST OR EVEN REQUIRE A NUMBER OF SATII SCORES IN ADDITITON TO THE REGULAR SAT SCORES.

My response: The question is why the top schools make this requirement. Apparently, they must believe that they get enough new information that they can separate out what must be a lot of pretty close calls on who to admit.

BUT AS LONG AS THE GENERAL SAT TEST IS CHEAP TO ADMINISTER, WHY ABOLISH IT? THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM THAT I SEE IS WHEN COLLEGES -- SUCH AS PENN STATE! -- TOTALLY DISREGARD THE SATII'S.

My response: I agree on both points. I think that the reason that Penn State and some other public universities put little weight on standardized tests is for affirmative action reasons. If you use GPAs, you end up with a more racially diverse student body with respect to African-Americans. There are a number of high schools where most of the students are African-Americans so if you take the top 10 percent of the class you know that you will pick up some African-Americans. Unfortunately, if you purely use the SAT African-Americans don't do as well.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7/16/2007 8:10 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Thanks for your comment. I agree that "abandoning the SAT in favor of GPA" would be a disaster. Grades are actually pretty useless in comparing students across schools because they don't account for differences in the strength of the competition. A straight A student at one school might be a B or a C student at another. That is the entire point of having standardized tests.

7/16/2007 10:05 PM  

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