Every year, high school students across the country spend a Saturday taking their SAT or ACT tests. In some cases, students start to prep for these exams as early as 9th grade, and that’s if they’re fortunate enough to have the means to afford test prep programs. Other students either don’t prep for the tests at all, or pick up a study guide from a bookstore.
But do these tests actually matter in the long run?
According to one study, they don’t and shouldn’t be used as indicators of a student’s college success.
William Hiss, the study’s author and a former Dean of Admissions for Bates College, says that there are more important factors to use to determine a students success in college, like high school grades, to measure intellectual talent and diversity.
“The evidence of the study clearly shows that high school GPA matters. Four-year, long-term evidence of self-discipline, intellectual curiosity and hard work; that’s what matters the most. After that, I would say evidence that someone has interests that they have brought to a higher level, from a soccer goalie to a debater to a servant in a community to a linguist. We need to see evidence that the student can bring something to a high level of skill,” Hiss said.
Hiss’ study tracked the grades and graduation rates of students who submitted their test results against those who did not over several years.
Hiss’ data showed that there was a negligible difference in college performance between the two groups. Only .05 percent of a GPA point set “submitters” and “non-submitters” apart, and the difference in their graduation rates was just .6 percent.
Hiss also noted if high school grades are not high, good testing does not promise college success. Students with good grades and modest testing did better in college than students with higher testing and lower high school grades.
“The human mind is simply so complex and so multifaceted and fluid, that trying to find a single measurement tool that will be reliable across the enormous populations of American students is simply a trip up a blind alley. I would never say the SATs and ACTs have no predictive value for anybody; they have predictive value for some people. We just don’t find them reliable cross populations,” says Hiss.
More colleges in the U.S are coming around to the idea of not requiring the SAT or ACT. Currently there are about 850 test-optional institutions of learning in the U.S.
Angel Perez, who is dean of admissions at Pitzer College, one of the schools included in the study, believes that test scores shouldn’t be the only factor involved in college admissions as well.
“One of the things we realized is that students that we assumed would do really well at Pitzer because they did really well on the SAT, actually weren’t necessarily doing well when they got to our campus. And those students we thought we were taking a risk on because of the fact that they didn’t do so well on the SAT were thriving when they got here,” said Perez.
In the last decade, since the college stopped requiring standardized tests for admission, the campus says it has seen a 58 percent increase in diversity, an 8 percent increase in GPA, a 39 percent increase in applicants, and a 10 percent increase in retention.
It has also doubled its number of students from low income, first generation applicants applying to college.
“We need thousands of students going through higher ed. Optional testing is one of the ways that that could happen. Optional testing is a potential route to getting many more students through higher education who normally would not be admitted or would not apply in first place,” Hiss said.
Hiss and Palmer aren’t the only ones who feel that changes need to be made to the admissions process in regards to testing. Akil Bello, the co-founder of the NYC based test prep company Bell Curves, expressed similar sentiments.
“The study while nice because the sample group was large and the study was not sponsored by the college board didn’t break any new ground. For years various organizations and studies have shown that the SAT’s value added to the predicting success in college was minimal at best. One study from 2007 showed that the SAT when added to GPA only improved the prediction rate by a negligible 0.1% Whether the SAT is a good test or not we’ve known for decades that the SAT is operating, at best, as a tool that reinforces social-economic advantages of the wealthy, if for no other reason than that its use should be mitigated if not outright stopped,” Bello stated.
Maybe one day other schools will follow in the footsteps of the 850 test-optional schools already in existence.