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SATs Just Part Of The Picture

The Hartford Courant

The results of a newly released study of colleges may well bring cheers from high school students struggling with the admission process: It shows that nationwide standardized testing scores are no better predictors of college success than a student's classroom grades are.

At last! No need to take the SAT or ACT?

Well, not quite, but the study does suggest that colleges shouldn't rely too heavily on the results of those tests, as some have in the past.

Many colleges require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores; some — an increasing number — make them optional. After looking at 123,000 students at 33 institutions for eight years, researchers found that in the end, requiring scores made little difference.

A student's classroom grades were at least as good a sign of future success as tests; lead researcher William Hiss, former admissions director at Bates College, even said they were a much better predictor.

One of the reasons the SAT rose to popularity in the 1940s is that it was thought to iron out differences between secondary educations. Whether a school was public or private, rich or poor, urban or rural, taught well or taught poorly, or had tough or easy grading became irrelevant; the national SAT — then known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test — put everyone on an equal footing.

What it failed to recognize sufficiently, however, is that a test by itself may not take into account important cultural or other differences among teenagers that don't easily translate to "good student" or "bad student." As one critic put it, "People aren't standardized, so why should testing be?"

Plus, some highly intelligent, capable students just aren't good at taking high-stakes standard tests.

There's no need to toss out the SAT and the ACT. Like other educational tools, they can be helpful if used properly — and they are always evolving. Also, relying too heavily on grades alone risks high school grade inflation.

But if this study is any indication, admissions offices would be well advised to use standardized tests as just one indicator — and not necessarily the most important one — of college success.

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