Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Critic of SAT Favors Anecdotes Over Facts

July 11, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

In his Commentary “UnSATisfactory: Why Education’s Most Famous Test Fails the Test “ (June 14, 2006), Walt Gardner is willing to accept assumptions, the advertised claims of commercial coaching firms, and statements from an unpublished study over fact and dozens of published scientific studies. In fully embracing these unsubstantiated statements and dismissing accumulated evidence, he promotes folklore over science, accepting misstatement and perception as fact.

There have been 10 separate, peer-reviewed studies published of the effects of coaching on the SAT across different groups of students. The majority of these studies were conducted by academic researchers with no affiliation to the College Board. They all have concluded that, after about 40 hours of classroom time, additional homework, and fees as high as $1,000 per student, coaching increased scores on the SAT verbal section (now “critical reading”) only by from 8 to 15 points, and on the SAT math section only by from 15 to 23 points. The most recent study was conducted by Derek C. Briggs, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Mr. Gardner ignores all of this research.

Mr. Gardner also cites a study by one selective, test-optional college demonstrating that, after 20 years, there was essentially no difference in graduation rates and only 0.05 in grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) between those who did and did not submit admission-test scores. He implies that this single study dismisses the accumulated evidence for validity of admissions tests from hundreds of studies at hundreds of colleges.

Meta-analyses of these studies confirm that admissions tests predict freshmen grades, cumulative grades, persistence, and graduation rates nearly as well—and better for some disciplines—as four years of high school grades. But the grades vs. test scores argument is a false dichotomy, since colleges can use both grades and test scores. When they do, validity is maximized for all groups of students.

Mr. Gardner does not offer a solution, but rather takes the position that admissions tests are not useful. This year, 42 percent of college-bound seniors taking the SAT reported having an A average in high school and a mean GPA of 3.33. At some elite private colleges, about 70 percent of students who sent SAT scores reported having a high school GPA of 4.0 or higher. When the vast majority of a college’s applicants all have A’s, grades are no longer helpful in distinguishing among applicants. Such institutions are forced to use other factors to make admissions decisions, such as activities, the rigor of courses completed, and the quality of the high schools attended.

Unfortunately, students have little influence over the quality of their high schools, and in some instances lack access to rigorous courses like Advanced Placement and opportunity to engage in school activities. Eliminating the only standardized measure available is not helpful to anyone. This point is well understood. In fact, the vast majority of colleges continue to use the SAT.

Educational discussions, including those about college admissions, are too often based on misinformation and speculation. Mr. Gardner reinforces this harmful, anti-scientific practice of characterizing anecdote as fact by ignoring research that could illuminate both the benefits and the limitations of standardized testing, grades, student essays, references, and other tools. We need to consider facts when debating the important educational decisions that are made concerning our children.

Wayne Camara

Vice President of Research

The College Board

New York, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as Critic of SAT Favors Anecdotes Over Facts

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Gunman in 2018 Parkland School Massacre Pleads Guilty
A jury will decide whether Nikolas Cruz will be executed for one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
3 min read
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Annika Dworet and her husband, Mitch Dworet, wipe away tears as their son's name is read aloud during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz's guilty plea on all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Dworet's son, Nicholas Dworet, 17, was killed in the massacre.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education Briefly Stated: October 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Gunman in Parkland School Massacre to Plead Guilty
The gunman who killed 14 students and three staff members at a Florida high school will plead guilty to their murders, his attorneys said.
4 min read
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is sworn in before pleading guilty, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on all four criminal counts stemming from his attack on a Broward County jail guard in November 2018, Cruz's lawyers said Friday that he plans to plead guilty to the 2018 massacre at a Parkland high school.
Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP
Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)