Admission Tests Misused, Says College Leader
The president of the leading higher-education umbrella group last week called the use of standardized tests "totally inappropriate" for college admissions, but stopped short of recommending that they be abolished.
"My quarrel is not with the tests," said Robert H. Atwell, president of the American Council on Education. "My quarrel is with the sanctity given such tests by the public, the news media, and the institutions themselves."
"The sanctity granted the tests was never intended, certainly not by those who designed them," he asserted.
As an example of an inappropriate use of admissions tests, Mr. Atwell noted that many colleges use the scores of incoming freshmen as "a measure of the quality of the institution."
"That begs the question of what happens once the student is in the institution," Mr. Atwell said. If, on the other hand, colleges administered admissions tests before students enrolled and again after graduation, and used the difference as a measure of quality, he said, "then, I'm interested."
The ace president made his comments last month at a conference in Los Angeles and repeated them in an interview last week. He said that he spoke only for himself, not the council, and added that he did not plan to propose any initiative to abolish the tests or restrict their use.
"That is not for me to say," he said. "That is a judgment for individual institutions to make. I just think that it is not a good idea to use the tests for admissions."
"They are good for diagnostic purposes," he said. "They can tell you who needs remediation or who ought to play football freshman year.''
Responding to Mr. Atwell's remarks, however, Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, said he was "shocked and amazed" by the assessment and that the adoption by colleges of that viewpoint could "create total chaos."
Without such tests, colleges would be unable to evaluate applicants, Mr. Stewart said, since K-12 schools lack a common curriculum. The College Board sponsors the Scholastic Aptitude Test, one of the two major college-admissions examinations.
Oluf M. Davidsen, president of the American College Testing Program, which administers the other major test, called Mr. Atwell's comments ''unfortunate" and added that they perpetuate "myths" about the standardized tests. "This misinformation aids and abets the anti-testing lobby unwarrantedly," he said.
But a prominent critic of standardized tests said that Mr. Atwell had added "one more voice to the chorus" calling for curbs in the use of such tests for admissions purposes.
"This sends a strong signal that it's legitimate to critically examine tests," said John G. Weiss, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass.-based advocacy group. "If the tests are critically examined, people will realize how flawed they are."
At least 40 colleges do not require the sat or act for admission, according to FairTest.