"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sacks: SAT Inching Toward Oblivion

A clip from a nice piece in Newsday:
. . . . We have known for many years that the SAT is a relatively weak predictor of academic success in college, adding little to what admissions offices can glean from high school grades, class rank, writing samples and other assessment tools that predict performance in the real world, including the classroom.

Probably the single most important study in recent years reaffirming this conclusion was published in 2001. University of California researchers examined some 80,000 student records and found that high school grades and the SAT subject tests were significantly better predictors of college grades than the SAT.

And we have long understood that the exam quite powerfully reinforces and amplifies inequalities of educational opportunities between rich students and poor ones. The 2001 University of California study, for instance, found that the SAT subject tests and high school grades bore virtually no relationship to the socioeconomic status of individual students - quite contrary to the robust relationship of SAT scores to the socioeconomic background of test takers.

Given these shortcomings of the SAT, it's wondrous that so many colleges and universities have stuck by it for so long. Institutional habits die hard. Under threat of losing its largest customer, the University of California system, the College Board unveiled a new SAT just a few years ago. But those changes never addressed the fundamental flaws of the test and how colleges were using it - and misusing it - to make important decisions about admissions and financial aid.

Amid this turbulence, the NACAC report promises to be a watershed event in American higher education. A widely representative group of educators and higher education leaders authored it, chaired by Fitzsimmons of Harvard. And they produced the report at a time when many colleges and universities are grappling to find ways to make their institutions more inclusive and less the bastions of privilege.

In the current system, dominated by privilege, elitism and money, a marginally bright rich kid can get into a top college because of a well-prepped SAT performance, while the creative genius from an impoverished family is lucky to attend a community college - or to go to college at all.

College "quality" in the current higher education market is primarily determined by an institution's selectivity in admissions, which in turn is determined by the median SAT score of entering freshmen. The college rankings game, orchestrated by U.S. News & World Report, entrenches the dominance of median SAT scores as a measure of quality. . . .

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