Education Opinion

More Bad News for SAT/ACT

By Peter Greene — July 29, 2015 2 min read
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The George Washington University will no longer require most undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores, effective Aug. 1.

With one sentence, the folks at GW this week made life just a little bit harder for standardized test manufacturers.

It’s not just that another college has dropped the popular testing product requirement. Doing so touched off the usual round of press. The folks at FairTest reminded us that over 850 colleges and universities no longer require students to jump through the old hoops. Valerie Strauss helpfully broke out some striking lists of top-ranked (well, top-ranked by the not-entirely-believable US News ranking system) schools that don’t require students to plunk down good money for a bad evaluation of their post-secondary prospects. Bowdoin! Bryn Mawr! Wake Forest! Hey, even my own alma mater—way to go, Allegheny!

It’s not just that this calls up all the old objections, all the things we already knew about the tests. Cue the regular research showing cultural and racial bias in the tests. Trot out the 2014 research showing that high school grades are better predictors of college success than SAT’s. Discuss the validity of tests so game-able that an entire industry has sprung up around gaming them.

But the bigger problem is the continued drawing of blood. Like the god-king who is nicked by a spear, the SAT and ACT are most hurt by the wound that reveals they are not what they say they are.

For generations here in the East, the SAT was just something you do. In the seventies, my classmates and I didn’t even ask where the SAT came from—as far as we knew it was some sort of government-college co-operative, mandated and required, like a driver’s test or vaccinations. Even “College Board” sounds like some sort of official regulatory agency.

The testing companies have fought to maintain that illusion. David Coleman and the College Board can still magically turn a drop in market share into a referendum on America’s education system. They’ve worked to market a racially biased instrument as a tool for social justice. And Coleman has stumped hard for the virtues of his new, improved version of the SAT, continuing his work to redefine what college-ready actually means.

They’ve also managed the impressive trick of getting states to include their product as part of school evaluation formulas. This is tantamount to getting the government to require cars to have a Ford nameplate in order to pass inspection.

But the continued defection of top schools has drawn blood, and the growth of the opt-out movement has armed the peasants with even more spears.

More and more people are coming to see the SAT and ACT for what they are—products for sale. Much of the SAT and ACT customer base is people who pay for the product because, well, you know, you have to, right? There’s no choice, right?

But with every passing defection it becomes clear there is a choice. There’s a choice for students, and there’s most especially a choice for colleges and universities. The SAT is not a necessary rite of passage. It’s just another six-pack of snake oil, an expensive con that’s long on drawbacks and short on benefits. The SAT and ACT may still rule the majority of college domains for now, but it is increasingly clear that the emperor is both fully mortal and mostly naked.

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