College Board vs. FairTest
The College Board did not like a guest post that I published last Friday by Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending what it says are misuses and flaws in standardized testing. The College Board is a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity. Among its best-known programs are the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT and the Advanced Placement program.
Schaeffer’s post is titled “How the ACT caught up with the SAT,” and it gives some history of the two college entrance exams. The College Board took issue with this piece and sent me the following response. After that, Schaeffer responds to the College Board.
College Board Response
As a not-for-profit education organization and the maker of the SAT®, the College Board takes exception to ... the column by Bob Schaeffer ...
For more than 80 years, admissions personnel from colleges and universities throughout the United States have relied on the SAT to help make decisions about a student’s likelihood for college success. The SAT tests students’ English and mathematics skills — the academic skills critical to succeeding in college. Perhaps this is why approximately 95 percent of all four-year academic colleges and universities in the U.S. require, and virtually all use, college entrance exams when making admissions decisions.
Critics of standardized admissions tests try to assail the validity of the tests, suggesting that they aren’t predictive, or that using only a student’s high school grades is a better alternative. The truth is that the SAT is very predictive of both a student’s college academic performance and a student’s likelihood of staying in college (retention).
Furthermore, the SAT is equally as powerful as high school grades at predicting a student’s college performance. And because the SAT and high school grades assess complementary, but somewhat different, capabilities of a student, the best predictor of college performance is the combination of the SAT and high school grades. This is why colleges use both.
It goes without saying that high school grades can vary by school, district, teacher and curriculum. Therefore, in addition to a student’s grades, colleges value having a fair national standardized benchmark like the SAT. This is particularly important in an era of grade inflation. During the last 20 years, the percentage of students who reported receiving A’s in high school classes has increased substantially, while the percentage of students who report earning B’s or C’s has decreased. As this trend continues, it is crucial that colleges also have standardized credentials to evaluate.
The SAT is the most rigorously researched and designed test in the world, and is consistently shown to be a fair and valid predictor of college success, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status. The false notion, advanced by FairTest, that these tests are biased is one that is largely rejected within mainstream psychology.
For instance, NACAC’s [National Association for College Admissions Counseling] Report of the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission, chaired by William Fitzsimmons of Harvard University, stated: “A substantial body of literature indicates that test bias has been largely mitigated in today’s admission tests due to extensive research and development of question items on both the SAT and ACT.”
The unfortunate truth is that students in lower-income areas do not receive the same quality education as those in higher-income areas. And lower-income areas are disproportionately populated by minority students. Thank goodness that we have fair national benchmarks like the SAT to help shine a spotlight on this problem. We need to ensure that all students in the U.S. complete high school, and are ready for postsecondary education.
Increasing college completion rates is a national education priority, and the SAT can help colleges and universities predict the likelihood that a student will return to school.
Recent research on second-year retention shows that SAT performance is a strong predictor of students’ likelihood of returning to school. Based on almost 150,000 students, the results indicate that the SAT predicts second-year retention, with 95.5 percent of high SAT performers returning for their second year of college, but only 63.8 percent of lower SAT performers returning.
What is more fascinating is that this second-year retention research also shows that retention rates predicted by SAT scores are consistent for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Simply stated, students who do well on the SAT have a markedly better chance of staying in college and graduating, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ethnicity. The SAT is capturing something very important about students’ likelihood to stay in, and succeed in, college.
The United States used to be number 1 in college completion but today we are number 12. We all recognize the importance of college readiness, and making sure that our children will be prepared to compete in a competitive global economy. We need to focus on ensuring that our students are receiving a quality secondary education, and are well-prepared to succeed in college and beyond.
Senior Vice President
College Connection & Success
The College Board
Response from Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest:
College Board Senior Vice President Laurence Bunin’s defensive response to FairTest’s analysis of the SAT’s loss of dominance in the admissions testing market is sadly predictable.
Bunin relies on self-serving College Board publications to argue that the SAT is almost as good as high school grades for forecasting first year undergraduate grades. But independent research shows that the test is a substantially poorer tool for predicting college graduation, a much more important outcome.
The meticulously detailed research in Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities, which was published last year and whose authors include former Princeton President William Bowen, demonstrates:
“High school grades are a far better incremental predictor of graduation rates than are standard SAT/ACT test scores … ” (p.226)
The book also demolishes Bunin’s hoary argument that the SAT is necessary because of the variation in grading among high schools, concluding:
“The strong predictive power of high school GPA holds even when we know little or nothing about the quality of the high school attended.” (p.226)
Bunin’s claim that the SAT is a “fair national benchmark” is also false. Studies published by the College Board, the test’s sponsor and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, show that the exam underpredicts the performance of females, students whose home language is not English, and college applicants who have been out of school for several years (http://www.fairtest.org/selected-annotated-bibliography-sat-bias-and-misus). Such systematic underprediction is the classic, technical definition of test bias.
Note that the three groups disadvantaged by the SAT include more than half of all SAT-takers and college applicants in the early 21st Century. It’s not surprising then that Crossing the Finish Line finds:
“Overly heavy reliance on SAT/ACT scores in admitting students can have adverse effects on the diversity of the student bodies enrolled by universities.”
Hundreds of colleges don't think the SAT is vital to their college admissions process. Six dozen colleges and universities have come to realize that the SAT is not necessary in the admissions process and have dropped SAT (and ACT) submission requirements for all or many applicants since the latest SAT test models were introduced in 2005, bringing the total of accredited, bachelor-degree granting, test-optional institutions to more than 840.
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| September 22, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories: College Admissions, SAT and ACT, Standardized Tests | Tags: college admissions
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