Sat Scores are not Required for Admission

“The SAT is a scam.” – Jon Katzman, the Princeton Review

This year, admissions officers at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, joined the growing number of elite schools to make SAT scores optional for applicants.

Reason: An avalanche of research that concludes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that SATs rank income. Not aptitude.

Yes, Smith College, ranked as the #18 liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News and World Report, no longer requires you to take the SAT if you want to go there. 40% of its 2009 applicants took them up on that offer.

Smith joins fellow Seven Sisters college Mount Holyoke (#27), prestigious Bowdoin (#6) and Middlebury (#5), and Hamilton College (#20) in making SATs optional. Oh, they’ll take the scores if you want them to. But they don’t require it. Add to that the alma mater of Barbara Walters and Rahm Emanuel, Sarah Lawrence College. Sarah Lawrence admissions officers don’t even open the SAT envelope, outright refusing to weigh scores in all its admissions decisions.

Jon Katzman founded the famous SAT-prep service, The Princeton Review. Katzman has been capitalizing for years on the market of affluent, aspiring freshmen willing to pay through the nose for better scores, and boost their chances of admission to better colleges. When Public Broadcasting Service interviewed him for its 1999 Frontline program, “Secrets of the SAT”, Katzman leveled plenty of criticism toward SAT test authors at Educational Testing Service, which runs the test.

“This is a test where everybody’s saying, ‘Look, we’re just being an incredibly fair society here,'” says Katmaan. “‘Everybody takes this test. And the better kids go to the better schools.’

“And it’s just bullshit,” he continues. “You know, the better kids hire me.”

In one investigation of the SAT, researcher Glenn Elert cites an American Council on Education study that declared, “The income of a student’s parents has no relationship to freshman GPA, either before of after controlling for high school grades, academic aptitude, and college selectivity.” Elert’s report, “The SAT: Aptitude or Demographic?” was released in 1992:

Among other things, Elert found, “SAT scores differentiate people not only by income but also by their parents’ role in the economic system. The average scores of the children of professionals are higher than the children of white collar workers, which in turn, are higher than the children of blue collar workers. High school rank, which is a better measure of academic achievement than SAT scores, shows no such correlation.”

Elert points to statistics that reveal, in addition to economic bias, a racial bias in SAT results. That’s just not fair. “Wealthy whites,” he says, “don’t see SAT results as proof that the poor are mistreated, they see them as proof that mistreatment of the poor is fair.”

What SAT scores are supposed to do is predict how successful a student will be when doing college level work. Originally, the SAT was designed to even the playing field, giving public school students the same chance at admissions to the nation’s most elite colleges and universities as those who graduated from ritzy, expensive prep schools. Decades later, it doesn’t seem to be working.

What to use instead?

The Center for Studies in Higher Education says data analyzed in 2007 shows High School grades are the closest thing to a real gauge of college aptitude. One report calls it “the best single predictor of cumulative fourth-year college GPA,” part of a study by researchers Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices, “Validity of High-School Grades in Predicting Student Success Beyond the Freshman Year”.

Geiser and Santelices maintain that scores on the SAT IIs – subject tests covering U.S. History, English, and other commonly offered High School subjects – are the next best predictor.

A combination of several applicant statistics is the best predictor of all. Counting Math and Verbal SAT scores of students whose parents didn’t pay for Princeton Review coaching just doesn’t make sense.

More and more colleges seem to agree.