The SAT Conundrum

The Boston Globe ran short exposition article looking at the current state of the ‘drop the SAT’ movement. All of the standard anti-SAT arguments appear- inaccurate predictor of college success, tilted in favor the wealthy (cultural exposure and test prep), use the SAT but assign less value to it in the admission process, no SAT requirement broadens the applicant pool.

Appropriate use of the SAT arguments run in counterbalance- the test accurately predicts college success, the test is only one factor in the admission process; the SAT is the only national measurement we have.

The ongoing ‘yes or no’ saga surrounding the SAT will never resolve itself given the plurality in college admission procedures. Small liberal arts colleges with a high ratio of staff to applications- and plenty of money for the admission office- can afford the time and effort necessary to evaluate a student’s complex picture of achievement and potential. Major state universities don’t have the luxury of time, money, and staff. For big schools, the SAT is an imperfect, albeit consistent, yardstick

The problem boils down to this. Without a defined curriculum- dare I say, a national curriculum- colleges with large applicant pools and smaller admission staffs (public universities) need a common yardstick. The common yardstick is blunt and unequal in its application. In many large public university settings, neither the time or money is available for complex admission evaluation.

It all comes down to household income. Household income is also the single strongest correlation to high SAT scores. If you come from a wealthy family, you’re more likely to be interested in and qualify for a small liberal arts college. There’s something very insular, circular, and unhealthy about this self-reinforcing pattern.

How do you get into this world and cycle if you don’t have a lot of money?

More pressing than whether or not to use the SAT in the college admission process should be a mission to design our schools so that household income becomes a weak correlation to SAT scores and smaller factor in academic achievement– a holy grail.

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