Wake Forest University

sat

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Posts Tagged ‘sat’

An Increasingly Test-Optional Landscape

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Today in high schools throughout America, there is arguably more emphasis than ever on the [perceived] importance of college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. A number of schools – private and public – offer test prep as part of their curriculum. The College Board, the SAT’s parent company, also offers a slew of preparatory experiences including the PSAT, study guides, and online resources. And yet, all the while, as the Los Angeles Times wrote last week, college admissions is becoming increasingly supportive of the test-optional movement.

Take, for instance, the fact that more than 25 percent of the U.S. News & World Report Top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges employed test-optional policies in 2007,  a statistic that now stands at roughly 30 percent. In all, 875 – or 38 percent of all accredited 4-year colleges – now make submitting test scores optional for applicants. Even top ranking officials at some of the country’s most elite colleges have hinted at continued examination of the role of testing in admissions. Here’s why:

Evidence shows that the SAT is not the strongest predictor of students’ college performance; rather, it most strongly correlates with students’ family income. Assessment of a student’s course load and classroom performance across the duration of high school best demonstrates a student’s potential for college success. Test-optional policies hold college admissions officers accountable for delving into the essence of students (via thought-provoking essays or personal interviews), necessitating that they be seen as individuals – not test scores. It is a tall task to ask, but well worth the payoff.

The richness of perspective in test-optional learning environments is undeniable. Students come from many backgrounds and walks of life and facilitate deeper, more comprehensive [and necessary] dialogue both inside and outside of the classroom. Ongoing research has also shown that students who chose to withhold test scores during admission perform on par with – or better than – students who submitted scores.

SAT Scores Down Create More Cause for Concern

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

This week news of the continued streak of average SAT scores falling highlighted a number of issues around students’ general preparedness for the test, as well as the disparities that exist among different racial/ethic and socioeconomic groups. For the second year in a row (and fifth year in the last seven) the average scores in critical reading and writing have dipped, both of which now sit below the 500-point benchmark. While the number of test-takers grew for both the SAT and ACT, the average score for the ACT remained the same as last year – a 21.1 composite. While these statistics are cause for concern, perhaps more startling are the gaps between majority and minority groups of test-takers, with black and Latino students performing the lowest of any groups.

A reason for such a trend might be students’ curricular experiences leading up to these tests. The vast majority of white students (80 percent or more) who took the SAT report completing their high school’s core curriculum; conversely, only 69 percent and 65 percent of black and Latino students, respectively, have done so. Socioeconomic statistics provide additional perspective; only 65 percent of students with a family income on $20,000 or less completed the core curriculum, whereas 84 percent of those with family income about $200,000 or more did so.

The Link Between the SAT and Wealth

Monday, September 17th, 2012

In recent years, a number of studies have concluded that the SAT, thought for decades to be the best measure for determining college preparedness, is in fact most strongly correlated with one’s household income – not his or her predicted success in college. However, a new study published in the journal Psychological Science looks to reestablished the SAT’s predictive value, saying that it is a strong measure, especially when evaluated in combination with high school GPA. The study, which employed several large samples across socioeconomic groups, could serve as a strong argument against recent  movements that look to diminish the SAT’s significance (i.e. test-optional admissions policies).

However, to say that circumstances surrounding this study are biased would be an understatement. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising aspect of the new study is the source of its funding – the College Board – the very organization that administers the SAT. Furthermore, one author of the study, Paul R. Sackett, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, also works as a consultant to the College Board. Though the study itself makes note of the College Board’s hand in funding the research and Sackett’s relationship with the College Board, the official press release issued by the Association for Psychological Science (the publisher of the journal) made no mention of the link.

In the coming days, there are sure to be a number of national conversations around this study and on both sides of the argument. We’ll keep you posted.

Lees-McRae College Goes Test-Optional

Monday, August 13th, 2012

This year, Lees-McRae College will make the transition into a test-optional admissions policy that will allow students to decide for themselves whether they would like to submit their SAT or ACT scores for evaluation. As stated on the institution’s website, it is believed that other considerations correlate more strongly to a student’s predicted success in college. For more information on the nearly 900 colleges and universities who use test-optional admissions policies, visit www.fairtest.org/.

Saint Rose Goes Test-Optional

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

The College of Saint Rose located in Albany, NY has announced its plans to begin implementing a test-optional admissions policy for the entering class of Fall 2013. The college, which ranked 39th among best regional (North) universities in U.S. News’ latest edition, said in its release that, “removing the test requirement, we let [students] know that their character, talent and individual achievements mean far more to us than numbers on a standardized test.” The college says that the policy will be a three-year pilot program, at which time the result will be evaluated and further determinations made.

For more information on the growing list of test-optional colleges and universities, visit www.fairtest.org/.

College Board pulls plug on summer SAT for gifted students

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

The news media, concerned parents, and scholars have won an important symbolic victory today for our nation’s young. The College Board backed off a summer test-prep camps for rich kids that would have been blatantly unfair, but the subtle unfairness of the test, advantaging high income youths, continues. This incident has shone a much needed light on one of higher education’s darkest secrets. Standardized tests have long allowed institutions to practice social discrimination in the name of academic selectivity. It’s time more colleges and universities take a stand against the SAT in the name of a level playing field based on academic merit, not household income.

By Joseph A. Soares, Professor of Sociology, Wake Forest University


August SAT Offered to Exclusive Clientele

Friday, June 1st, 2012

The University Prep partnership between the College Board and a National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT) exposes the hypocrisy of the College Board’s rhetoric about the SAT being a fair way to democratize and expand access to higher education.

In reality, this exclusive and unprecedented arrangement – open only to students whose families can pay $4,500 for a fast-lane test prep course in the comfort of an Amherst College summer camp – grants privilege to a small, test-score aristocracy.

While summer camps on college campuses for “gifted” students are nothing new, students in this program can the buy exclusive access to the SAT, which never has been offered outside the school year. This is a very expensive test-prep camp that is open only to students who, in many if not most cases, were pre-selected for gifted and talented programs by standardized tests such as the ETS’s ERB exams (which, like the SAT, correlate highly with family incomes).

Participation in this program sends the message to these youths – and the entire nation – that they are special and deserve exclusive treatment in the form of an additional opportunity to take the SAT.  These students are flying first class to the land of elite universities in August, while everyone else must fly economy in October.

How this program makes for a level playing field for a fair measure of one’s academic merit is a mystery.

By Joseph A. Soares, Professor of Sociology at Wake Forest University

New Leadership at College Board

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

The College Board has announced that David Coleman, architect of  the Common Core State Standards, will become its new president and chief executive officer, beginning in October.  Already, the announcement has created waves across the nation’s educational landscape as many have begun to speculate what changes Coleman’s appointment might bring to the nonprofit organization and one of its best-known products – the SAT.  Over the last decade, Coleman has made a name for himself in the K-12 arena, an area that College Board hopes to penetrate further with implementation of new programs that reach beyond the scope of the AP and the SAT; Coleman provides the “linkage” that is expected to “benefit both K-12 and higher education,” says Lester P. Monts, a former College Board trustee and search committee leader.  Discussing his plans in an interview, Coleman remarked: “What the Common Core does in combination with the College Board is make it more realistic for us as a society to make sure that a kid’s educational life is richer and more rigorous every year,” he said, “so there’s not this sudden rise in challenge when it comes time to take an examination.  Still, critics of the College Board, including Robert A. Schaefer, public education director for FairTest, point to the organization’s continued attempt at using ‘one-size-fits-all’ practices to ‘administer’ the country’s public education.

Whatever your opinion, this juncture provides an opportunity for colleges and high schools to find common ground around an important topic. Coleman’s hiring signals a commitment toward education reform and provides an opportunity for the organization to reforms its own image. “The College Board needs to be known more for what it does than for the SAT and its other products,” says Jerome A. Lucido, another former College Board trustee.  Only time will tell whether this goal might be fulfilled.

Narrowing the New Class Divide

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

From The New York Times

By Charles Murray

There’s been a lot of commentary from all sides about my recently published book, “Coming Apart,” which deals with the divergence between the professional and working classes in white America over the last half century.

Some of the critiques are fair, some are frivolous. But there’s one — “He doesn’t offer any solutions!” — that I can’t refute. The reason is simple: Solutions that are remotely practicable right now would not do much good.

The solution I hear proposed most often, a national service program that would bring young people of all classes together, is a case in point. The precedent, I am told, is the military draft, which ended in the early 1970s. But the draft was able to shape unwilling draftees into competent soldiers because Army officers had the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make their orders stick.

Administrators of a compulsory civilian national service program would likewise face young people who mostly didn’t want to be there, without being able to enforce military-style discipline. Such a program would replicate the unintended effect of jobs programs for disadvantaged youth in the 1970s: training young people how to go through the motions and beat the system. National service would probably create more resentment than camaraderie.

That said, I can see four steps that might weaken the isolation of at least the children of the new upper class.

For one thing, we should get rid of unpaid internships. The children of the new upper class hardly ever get real jobs during summer vacation. Instead, they get internships at places like the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute (where I work) or a senator’s office.

It amounts to career assistance for rich, smart children. Those from the middle and working class, struggling to pay for college, can’t afford to work for free. Internships pave the way for children to move seamlessly from their privileged upbringings to privileged careers without ever holding a job that is boring or physically demanding.

So let the labor unions win this one: If you are not a religious organization and have more than 10 employees, the minimum wage law should apply to anyone who shows up for work every day.

We can also drop the SAT in college admissions decisions. The test has become a symbol of new-upper-class privilege, as people assume (albeit wrongly) that high scores are purchased through the resources of private schools and expensive test preparation programs.

Instead, elite colleges should require achievement tests in specific subjects for which students can prepare the old-fashioned way, by hitting the books.

Another step would replace ethnic affirmative action with socioeconomic affirmative action. This is a no-brainer. It is absurd, in 2012, to give the son of a black lawyer an advantage in college admissions but not do the same for the son of a white plumber.

Finally, we should prick the B.A. bubble. The bachelor’s degree has become a driver of class divisions at the same moment in history when it has become educationally meaningless. We don’t need legislation to fix this problem, just an energetic public interest law firm that challenges the constitutionality of the degree as a job requirement.

After all, the Supreme Court long ago ruled that employers could not use scores on standardized tests to choose among job applicants without demonstrating a tight link between the test and actual job requirements. It can be no more constitutional for an employer to require a piece of paper called a bachelor’s degree, which doesn’t even guarantee that its possessor can write a coherent paragraph.

If I’m advocating these ideas now, why didn’t I propose them in “Coming Apart”? Because, sadly, they won’t really make a lot of substantive, immediate difference. Internships that pay the minimum wage are still much more feasible for affluent students than for students paying their own way through college. The same students who score high on the SAT score high on achievement tests, and for the same reason (they’re smart and well prepared).

Even without socioeconomic affirmative action, a high proportion of academically gifted children from the working class already get scholarships to good schools. And even if job interviews are opened up to people without a bachelor’s degree, those with the best real credentials will still get the job, and they will be drawn overwhelmingly from the same people who get the jobs now.

There may, however, be a symbolic value in these reforms. The changes that matter have to happen in the hearts of Americans. The haves in our society are increasingly cocooned in a system that makes it easy for their children to continue to be haves. Recognizing that, and acting to diminish the artificial advantages of the new upper class — especially if that class takes the lead in advocating these reforms — could be an important affirmation of American ideals.

Charles Murray is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, most recently, of “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.”

Faculty Role in Admissions

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

From Inside Higher Ed

By Joseph Soares

Following my presentation last year at “The Case for Change in College Admissions” conference at the University of Southern California, a dean from one of America’s most prestigious universities said, “We know the SAT and ACT are not good predictors of college grades, but our faculty resist going test-optional. They are worried about standards.”

While the debate over standardized tests and college admissions began 20 years ago, the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room is faculty complacency and ignorance. Nearly all of the 870 colleges that are test-optional today have gone that way due to leadership from administrators or admissions deans. It’s a harsh reality, but as winners at the testing game many faculty are oblivious to the damage done by a test that is statistically redundant and socially discriminatory. It’s time to set the record straight.

Faculty members need to know that college admissions remain more art than science. As documented in my new book, SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions, our best statistical models predicting first-year college grades explain only about 30 percent of what’s going on, leaving 70 percent of what matters unknown. In those models, the academic variable carrying the most weight is always high school grades, while the unique statistical contribution of test scores is marginal: for example, at Johns Hopkins it adds two percentage points; at the University of Georgia one percent; and at DePaul one percent.

In my book, the president emeritus of the University of California Richard Atkinson and Berkeley statistician Saul Geiser stress, “[i]rrespective of the quality or type of school attended, cumulative grade point average (GPA) in academic subjects in high school has proved to be the best overall predictor of student performance in college. This finding has been confirmed in the great majority of ‘predictive-validity’ studies conducted over the years, including studies conducted by the testing agencies themselves.”

When not being “truth-optional” in their public relations spin, even the tests’ sponsors concede that the single variable that most highly correlates with college grades is high school grades earned over four years, not test scores derived from four hours of stress on a Saturday morning.

Rather than leveling the playing field, standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT perpetuate social discrimination in the name of academic selectivity. Whereas high school GPA and class rank do not correlate with family income, the SAT and ACT can’t say that. Defenders of the tests say they are fair and the social disparities expressed in scores sadly reflect the unfairness of life, but the reality is that family income, gender, and race predict test scores more powerfully than test scores predict college grades.

As a result, the tests create a costly, anxiety-ridden and time-consuming distraction from real learning. They undermine the high school curriculum, sending the wrong signal to youth that test prep – which typically costs hundreds, if not thousands of dollars – will get you further than hard work in class. Would standardized testing have such a powerful and distorting impact on the whole of the K-12 experience if the SAT or ACT were not required by colleges for admissions?

Faculty need to know that rather than lowering standards, test-optional admissions raise them, and there’s new data to prove it. Wake Forest University went test-optional three years ago, and since then we’ve seen first-year students from the top 10 percent of their high school class jump from 65 percent in 2008 to 83 percent this year. Pell Grant recipients have doubled. Our student body is more racially and socioeconomically diverse than ever before. Library usage is up, and classroom discussions are reportedly livelier than before.

It’s just as Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade predicts in SAT Wars: going test-optional increases the social diversity and academic strength of students at private colleges, and being “don’t ask, don’t tell” at public universities does the same. We expect to see universities that drop the requirement, including most recently Clark University and DePaul University, rewarded with stronger and more diverse applicant pools in the near future. Test-optional enriches the campus experience. So what would it take to end this farce?

Charles Murray, a contributor to SAT Wars, believes that action by top colleges such as Harvard or Stanford would push us past the tipping point. “If just those two schools took such a step, many other schools would follow suit immediately, and the rest within a few years.” He adds, “Admissions officers at elite schools are already familiar with the statistical story … They know that dropping the SAT would not hinder their selection decisions.”

The aforementioned dean asked me to send a copy of SAT Wars for an overdue discussion amongst faculty at that prominent institution. With data from Wake Forest and other schools that have removed the requirement on the table, it’s time for professors at America’s most prestigious colleges to set the myths aside and take their position of academic leadership seriously. It’s time to do your own research, hold a discussion, contribute to the national debate, and vote. Don’t be part of the problem when you hold the solution in your hands.