Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is It Time To Ditch The SAT?

Back in August last year, I explained how and why the SAT can no longer be regarded as a qualifying test for entry into Mensa, or any of the other high I.Q. societies, e.g.

This quoted Dr. Abby Salny, Mensa psychometrician - who responded to a question in the 1994 March Mensa Bulletin, pointing out the SAT had ceased to be an aptitude test, and had become instead an achievement test. The latter's basis being merely to test knowledge accumulated as opposed to one's aptitude for acquiring new knowledge and applying it in different ways.

This is critical and bears on why the SAT is even needed anymore, given that "achievement" is essentially mostly coincident with one's scholastic attainments in high school, i.e. GPA. Hence, if one goes to a creditable high school (no basket weaving or dance courses!) one ought to be able to be judged able to enter college based on GPA alone. To demand also an SAT appears to be redundant.

Reinforcing the take that the SAT has become superfluous as a key criterion for college admission  has been the news that a major overhaul is in the works (Denver Post, Mar. 6, 'SAT to Undergo Major Overhaul', p. 15A).  This is scheduled to go into effect when today's high school freshmen take it in 2016. According to College Board officials, quoted in the Denver Post account, they:

"want to make the SAT more accessible, straightforward and grounded in what is taught in high school".

Commendable, except for the fact colleges want to know - or should - how these kids will potentially perform at the college level - which ought to be much more demanding than high school!

Has everyone missed the memo that college was never intended to be for everyone, nor should it be? (As reflected in recurring stats showing how few of those attending actually graduate from college after 5 years.)  College perhaps is not exclusively for an elite minority, but it will never be for the majority either - hence the need for more technical, vocational schools as in Germany. (See the excellent account in the Sunday Denver Post on how the need for more vo-tech grows in this state every year - more electricians, plumbers, and auto mechanics - as well as airplane mechanics - are desperately needed.)

Anyway, why I bring this up is that Wake Forest University  (North  Carolina) is now among the first to no longer require the SAT for admission, e.g. in addition to the high school academic record. In fact, according to a CBS News report last night, some 800 schools already allow students to apply without it. This is terrific given the fact scoring high on the test is often a matter of mastering "tricks" to cut the time consumed. Hence, those students who think too much are often penalized the most. (This applies less to the AP versions of the SAT and hence, doing AP SATs is more defensible, especially if a student plans to attend a school like MIT or Caltech. Thus, admissions would want to know how good you are at calculus and physics.)

Back to Wake Forest: According to Martha Allman, Dean of Admissions, interviewed on the news spot:

"We see many students who simply don't test well. They have intellectual curiosity and drive and all the tools to be successful college students but that Saturday morning test is their nemesis."

As reported, however, the College Board begs to differ, calling the test "essential" and that it needs to be used in tandem with high school grades. But I call bollocks on that, since again - no longer being an aptitude test, it loses utility in the wider picture. Okay, I do concede that on rare occasions it might be needed if the particular college admissions office suspects grade inflation is endemic at a high school. Also, let's bear in mind that taking the test entails $$$ and the College Board may not wish to lose a piece of its existing testing "pie". (Another reason they may have dumbed the test down some more - to lure more HS students to take it.)

This take is supported by Wake Forest's Allman who went on to point out that:

"There's no statistical difference in grade point average or in graduation rate between (SAT) submitters and non-submitters."

The news report also cited a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) which backs up that thesis of optional testing. Again, it found "no significant differences in graduation rates or GPAs between the two groups."

 Which ought to be welcome news to all those who always suspected the SAT was more about helping to create a specialized niche industry (e.g.  to prep hordes of students for it), not to mention financing perennial testing itself. Both of which, we now see, impose unnecessary burdens on students and their parents.

No comments: