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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 09/22/2010

College Board vs. FairTest

By Valerie Strauss

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.

Laurence Bunin
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 ( 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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By Valerie Strauss  | September 22, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, SAT and ACT, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  college admissions  
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How the College Board maintains its "non-profit" status is most likely attributable to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spends on lobbying Congress each year. The College Board's 990 for 2007 showed $55,000,000 of "non-profit pocketed by these guys, and they paid their CEO $830,832 in salary for 2007. 990s available here:

Posted by: SchoolsMatter | September 22, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Monty Neill, Bob Shaeffer, and Lisa Guisbond of Fair Test present some ludicrous and extremely convoluted arguments against the use of most forms of tests. These folks would rather see kids pass in a diorama or have their aunt write an essay for their senior thesis than have anyone be subjected to the rigors of an impartial, third party test. I'd love to know the primary sponsors of Fair Test; somehow I have to believe the NEA is a significant contributor.

Go to the Fair Test web site and peruse their "list" of 840 colleges that do not require SAT's. At last count there were over forty ITT Techs along with a plethora of other less than ready for prime time institutions of higher learning (NOT).

Next, check out the makeup of their staff and/or board. Google some of these characters and see what you discover. Left-wing, loopty-loop progressives, all of them. No wonder Val loves them; she's one of them. These are the folks who want to turn our classrooms and schools into Tball teams, where no one ever keeps score, everyone is declared a winner, and in the end everyone gets a trophy. What a way to run our schools - feel good factories.

Posted by: phoss1 | September 22, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

In the SUNY (State University of New York) system some schools, years ago, chose not to look at ACT scores. The schools that did this experienced a higher dropout rate than the schools that kept the SAT.

I proctored SATs. This is about the only time these kids actually have to concentrate ALONE for any length of time. This in itself is a selector for college life.

Most of the people I've come across who object to the SAT seem to have no concept of bell curves. They seem to object to any test that shows that most people are average. This is the reason for the existence of "alternative assessments" that show that everyone is superior.

Posted by: physicsteacher | September 22, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Schaeffer and Valerie Strauss both fail to address at all the simple logical claim that demands the SAT and equivalents- particularly the increased use of AP tests and SAT subject tests: All schools are not the same all teachers are not the same. A student at one school, in one class, who gets a C could have gotten an A in just a class at another school.

GPA is a rotten comparative tool between students. If you want to compare, you have to use the same baseline. Just because the results of the SAT don't "look right" to your racist eyes, doesn't mean they are wrong. It just means we need to create an educational culture that supports all students. Fixing the results or pretending they don't exist doesn't make them go away.

The one semi-factual claim made by Schaeffer is that students with higher grades have higher graduation rates. While this is true, you have to put it in context because the data is not controlled for which school the people went to. If I have a 2.8 student with a 1400 SAT and a 3.8 student with a 1400 SAT at a challenging college, and then you compare a 3.8 student with a 800 SAT and a 2.8 student with 800 SAT at an easy college, and both of the 2.8 students drop out, it will show that GPA has a slight correlation with effort, but it says NOTHING about whether the student with the 800 SAT could have performed at the challenging school!

Posted by: staticvars | September 22, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

What most people who have some discernible fairness quotient object to is that standardized testing measures, as Alfie Kohn has quipped, how big the houses are of the test takers. The SAT and the other "objective" measures that grew out of the eugenics-inspired IQ movement assure that those with wealth keep wealth by assuring that their children get spots in the best schools. The NYTimes did an analysis last year that is available at the url below that uses the College Board's own numbers to show that the correlation between wealth and test scores is indisputable:

Great charts at the site, but here are a couple of take-aways, directly quoted from the Times:
* There’s a very strong positive correlation between income and test scores. (For the math geeks out there, the R2 for each test average/income range chart is about 0.95.)
* On every test section, moving up an income category was associated with an average score boost of over 12 points.
* Moving from the second-highest income group and the highest income group seemed to show the biggest score boost. However, keep in mind the top income category is uncapped, so it includes a much broader spectrum of families by wealth.

Posted by: SchoolsMatter | September 22, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

What most people who have some discernible fairness quotient object to is that standardized testing measures, as Alfie Kohn has quipped, how big the houses are of the test takers. T


There's also a statistical correlation between ice cream consumption and crime. So what?

You're arguing that we should just admit people who aren't cut out for college into college just because they happen to come from poverty.

Then what? You think that someone from who does poorly on the SAT/ACT, because they're poor, and gets admitted into MIT, because of grades, will fare well competing with people with sky high SAT/ACT scores, (for whatever reason)? Should MIT then give a certain number of A's to people who naturally earn F's because they come from poverty?

Should we do something similar in other walks of life? Olympic downhill skiers tend to come from mountainous northern countries. (I wonder if Alfie and friends have noted that correlation). Doesn't sound fair to me.

Posted by: physicsteacher | September 23, 2010 1:37 AM | Report abuse

When someone uses Alfie Kohn in an attempt to substantiate an argument, they're hurting - BIGTIME.

While he may be one of Val's favorites, along with Deborah Meier and other far, far left-wing radicals, in the REAL WORLD he's recognized for what he is, You fill in the blank.

Posted by: phoss1 | September 23, 2010 6:58 AM | Report abuse

"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. "

Hahahahahahaha!!! This wording says it all. There was NOTHING defensive in Bunin's response, but there is plenty of defensive posturing in Schaeffer's. Schaeffer also sets up a few straw men to knock down, rather than responding directly to the points Bunin puts forth.

If I want to find out who reasons well, I'll look at their SAT scores. If I want to find out who can follow directions and complete work, I'll look at grades. Both of these attributes are important for college success. Generally, how to follow directions and complete work can be learned, and though one can boost one's reasoning skills, there is a natural range for one person's capability.

I have to wonder how Schaeffer did on the SAT and hope that he usually shows more reasoning in his life than he showed in his response above.

Posted by: owlice | September 23, 2010 7:40 AM | Report abuse

The SAT is excellent at finding what it was originally intended to find: that smart, talented, well-read kid who is attending school in a district that is not a traditional feeder for Ivy and Ivy-like institutions, but who somehow has developed the vocabulary expected at one of those institutions. Perhaps for that small group of individuals, it is worth taking the exam. Unfortunately, these individuals also are the ones who are least likely to think of it on their own, or to be encouraged by someone "in the know", and there is little evidence that the Ivy and Ivy-like institutions actually have space for all of them.

The SAT (even more so than the ACT) also has proven to be an excellent diagnostic tool in identifying students with inattentive ADD. High SAT score but half of the grades are C or lower and the other half are As? Bingo.

The SAT/ACT/No Test fight is not going to go away until we have the tool we really need: the social skills and personality exam that will identify the people who are equipped to go out and get the job done in life. In the end, that skill set is what counts.

Posted by: contrarymom | September 23, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

phoss1 blathers:
"These folks would rather see kids pass in a diorama or have their aunt write an essay for their senior thesis than have anyone be subjected to the rigors of an impartial, third party test. I'd love to know the primary sponsors of Fair Test; somehow I have to believe the NEA is a significant contributor."

You HAVE to believe (=make up from hole cloth), even though you have not one shred of evidence.

Perhaps you could make arguments without conjecture or name calling. I actually agree that the SAT provides a needed uniform benchmark for comparing students from different schools. However, your faulty reasoning and need to insult progressives on an issue that really has nothing to do with right/left politics, detract from your position rather than support it.

Posted by: buckbuck11 | September 23, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

It is disgusting that you all continue to provide a forum for the FairTest phonies. It is not "self-serving College Board publications" that support the SAT, but peer-reviewed journal articles and independent (eg, UCal system) studies. Schaeffer also employs his usual dishonest trick of using selective quotations to imply something that his source material doesn't say: in fact, aside from the least selective schools, the SAT does predict graduation rates above and beyond high school GPA.

Whether graduation rates are the best metric is another issue- as anyone who's gone to college knows, it's fairly difficult to flunk out based on ability alone. There are always easy classes, tutors, etc, to help you get through. Dropouts are driven by economic, personal, motivational sorts of reasons. GPA reflects motivation, so it will predict dropouts to some degree, but do colleges really want a bunch of motivated dim bulbs who will rely on tutors and joke classes to gut out a degree?

Finally, the replacement for the SAT/ACT is likely to be some sort of achievement test. And it may turn out that these will be even better predictors of college success than the SAT. If so, great. But they're going to show at least as much of the demographic disparities that so concern FairTest as the SAT, and probably more.

Posted by: qaz1231 | September 23, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

The College Board should stick to testing and get out of the money-making business.

There are inherent conflicts with its stated mission when it puts itself in the lead generation business--selling student information to schools for a profit. It's now rolling out a Net Price Calculator that is being sold to schools and will generate more leads to sell and more visits to its web site. It sells test-prep materials. It sells an admissions advising service.

Surely there were a few raised eyebrows this week when it announced its contest with MTV. Are they going to give away the winning digital financial aid tool or will it be sold to schools and posted on the College Board's web site? Ka-ching!

Posted by: finaidexpert | September 23, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

As to FairTest's finances:

Sounds like Schaeffer's got himself a pretty swell gig.

Posted by: qaz1231 | September 23, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Y'all are giving every a stomach ache with ideologically-driven pejorative comments that set aside the evidence:

“High school grades are a far better incremental predictor of graduation rates than are standard SAT/ACT test scores … ” (p.226)

Does anyone argue with that?

This isn't about left-leaning loonies or right wing-nuts.

But one wouldn't know it from reading the CEEB response (which doesn't mention that ACT has overtaken the SAT) or from reading most of the comments here.

Posted by: DickSchutz | September 23, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

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