PSAT to Keep Role in Merit Awards

By Vaishali Honawar — April 05, 2005 1 min read

The College Board will continue to endorse using the PSAT as the qualifying exam for National Merit Scholarships, despite concerns that the awards go to white students in disproportionately high numbers because they score better on the exam than minority students.

The board of trustees of the New York City-based College Board, which owns the preliminary, or practice, version of the SAT college-entrance exam, on March 24 accepted a subcommittee’s recommendation to continue allowing the test’s use for the scholarship program.

Questions of inequity were first raised by Patrick Hayashi, a former College Board trustee and a former associate president in the University of California system. Mr. Hayashi said that the College Board has failed to show that the PSAT is a valid indicator of merit.

Mr. Hayashi wrote in a letter to the board of trustees last year that the College Board’s endorsement of the National Merit Scholarship Program “enables it to advance a false definition of merit, one that harms especially underrepresented minorities, poor students, and non-native speakers of English.”

In late March, a key faculty committee of the University of California system recommended that the university’s campuses reconsider their participation in the National Merit Scholarship Program because the method the program uses to select its winners is unfair.

College Board spokeswoman Chiara Coletti said the questions raised were “complex” and “sensitive” and would require further discussion with the National Merit Scholarship Corp., the Evanston, Ill.- based organization that administers the program. Elaine Detweiler, a spokeswoman for the corporation, said that the use of the PSAT was meant to identify a representative group of students with a high potential for success in college. The final decision on the scholarships, she said, is based on a number of factors in addition to the test, including a student’s academic record and an essay.

But Mr. Hayashi noted that initial eligibility is determined solely on PSAT scores. About 1.3 million 11th graders take the PSAT each fall, and about 16,000 are chosen as National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. Awards for finalists range from $500 to $10,000 per year.