Federal

Panel Urges Reduced Use of College-Admission Tests

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — September 22, 2008 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Includes updates and/or revisions.

As legions of high school students prepare to spend long Saturday mornings this fall taking the SAT or ACT college-entrance tests, a national commission is recommending that colleges and universities should consider dropping the tests as a requirement for college entry.

A 56-page report released today by the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission cites what the panel sees as the tests’ questionable predictive value for student success in college, the focus that reliance on the exams places on test-preparation over mastering a strong curriculum, and the uneven preparation for the tests among different student groups.

“Despite their prevalence in American high school culture, college-admission exams—such as the SAT and ACT—may not be critical to making good admission decisions at many of the colleges and universities that use them,” the report says. “While the exams, used by a large majority of four-year colleges and universities to make admission decisions, provide useful information, colleges and universities may be better served by admission exams more closely linked to high school curriculum.”

The commission was convened in late 2006 by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, based in Arlington, Va., partly in response to a rash of scoring errors on the SAT, which is owned by the New York City-based College Board. Another impetus was what the association said was a “growing” number of colleges adopting optional-test policies, though the size of that movement is in dispute.

The panel, made up of high school counselors and college-admissions officers, was chaired by William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admission and financial aid at Harvard University.

Practical Changes Urged

The commission’s report suggests that colleges assess for themselves how much scores on college-entrance exams can predict academic success among students from various subgroups at their institutions.

The use of cut scores on college-entrance exams to determine which students are eligible for scholarships, and the tallying of test scores of entering freshmen as an indicator of an institution’s quality, should be abandoned, according to the report. The use of the preliminary SAT, or PSAT, for screening National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, and the ranking of colleges and universities according to the scores of entering freshman, for example, tend to overemphasize the importance of test results over other indicators, such as the rigor of a school’s curriculum and how well students master it, the panel says in the report.

The commission stressed that more information on students’ academic accomplishments is better than less in making college-admission decisions. “A growing field of research, in education and psychology, suggests different approaches to evaluation that may allow for broader and more inclusive review of individual talents,” the report says. “While we can generalize about the relative importance of factors in the admission decision across colleges and universities, this commission stresses that as a foundation for discussing the use of standardized admission tests for undergraduate admission, the varying form, function, and mission of colleges and universities prevents us from suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach.”

The College Board said in a statement today that it agrees with the NACAC panel “that the best preparation for college-admissions tests is knowledge gained from an academic core curriculum.”

“We strongly support NACAC’s decision to further study the efficacy of commercial test preparation and agree with the need to educate students and families about current and future findings regarding commercial test preparation,” the College Board statement says. “Hundreds of national research studies show that the SAT is a valid predictor of college success, and it also serves the important function of guarding against grade inflation at the high school level. We have long advised that the best use of the SAT in the admission process is in combination with high school grades.”

New Tests Proposed

Achievement tests aligned with a college-preparatory curriculum could better gauge students’ readiness for college, the commission’s report says. The commission recommends the development of such tests by college and secondary school professionals and state and local education agencies.

The use of such tests would send a “message to students,” the report says, “that studying their course material in high school, not taking extracurricular test-prep courses that tend to focus on test-taking skills, is the way to do well on admission tests and succeed in a rigorous college curriculum.”

Educators and experts in the field have debated for years the value and validity of using college-entrance-exam scores as a primary criterion for admissions.

A year ago, more than 100 high school counselors and college-admissions officers packed a standing-room-only “listening meeting” of the commission in Austin, Texas that began airing questions about the utility of the SAT and the ACT, which is owned by Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT, Inc.

Several hundred colleges and universities have already modified or eliminated entrance-exam requirements, and allowed alternative measures of students’ achievement and preparedness for higher education.

The 21-member commission says that more than 280 colleges and universities have made college-entrance exams optional. Yet the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Cambridge, Mass.-based organization known as FairTest that is critical of what it sees as bias in and misuse of college-entrance exams for college-admissions decisions, claims that nearly 800 institutions do not require entrance-exam scores for admission.

“The NACAC report accurately captures the concerns about test-score misuse and overuse shared by many high school guidance counselors and college-admissions officers,” Jesse Mermell, FairTest’s executive director, said in a statement. “The test-scores obsession is undermining both equity and educational quality in our nation’s schools.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2008 edition of Education Week

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
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
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

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

Federal Miguel Cardona Came in as a Teacher Champion. Has COVID Muted His Message?
The education secretary is taking heat from some who say his advocacy is overshadowed by Biden's push to keep schools open.
11 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks to students at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. on April 22, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks to students at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y., last April.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus