College & Workforce Readiness

SAT Said To Be Reliable Predictor Of College Success

By John Gehring — May 09, 2001 4 min read
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The SAT not only is a solid measure of students’ academic performance in their first year of college, it also can predict performance throughout a college career, according to an analysis that looks at more than 1,700 studies examining the test over the past 50 years.

For More Information

Draft copies of the report can be obtained by e-mailing Sarah Hezlett, one of the lead authors, at shezlett@tc.umn.edu.

Commissioned by the College Board, the New York City-based organization that owns the college-entrance test that some 1.3 million students took last year, the study uses a statistical method called meta-analysis to review the prior research on the SAT conducted by the College Board, university researchers, and others from the 1940s through the late 1990s.

“Overall, these results indicate the SAT predicts academic performance both early and late in college,” the authors, who include six researchers at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and one researcher from the College Board, write in the paper.

The study, “The Effectiveness of the SAT in Predicting Success Early and Late in College,” which was presented April 28 at a professional conference for psychologists also found that individuals with higher SAT scores were more likely to remain in college and complete their degrees than those with lower scores.

But, as with the correlation between the test scores and college academic performance, the results diminished over time.

The greatest decline in the ability to predict such results occurs during the first year in college, with the SAT doing a better job predicting students’ first-semester grade point averages than their academic performance at the end of the freshman year, the researchers found.

Their analysis, to a lesser extent, found positive correlations between higher SAT scores, strong study habits, and success in individual classes.

Under Fire

The review comes at a time when the SAT faces increased scrutiny.

Last month, as part of a National Urban League survey of business leaders, corporate executives from Verizon Communications, Bank of America, and other prominent companies sent a strongly worded letter to more than 700 college and university presidents asking them to stop what the executives see as an overemphasis on tests such as the SAT in admissions decisions. (“Corporate Leaders Decry Emphasis on SATs,” April 18, 2001.)

And in February, the president of the University of California system, Richard C. Atkinson, drew national attention and helped renew debate about the test when he announced a plan to drop the SAT I as a requirement for admission to the 10-campus, 170,000-student system. He has proposed replacing it with other tests, such as the SAT II, that assess students’ knowledge of specific subjects. (“UC President Pitches Plan To End Use of SAT in Admissions,” Feb. 28, 2001.)

Mr. Atkinson, a founding chairman of the National Research Council’s board on testing and assessment, said that overreliance on the SAT had led to “the educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race,” and he called for the development of standardized tests tied to college-preparatory courses.

The university’s academic council and board of regents would have to approve the plan.

Shortly after announcing his proposal, Mr. Atkinson met with Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, about having the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, which writes and administers the SAT, help create an alternative assessment for the University of California system.

Mr. Atkinson respects the value of standardized testing, but he would like to employ a better measure for the university system, said UC spokeswoman Abby Lunardini. But there have been no specific discussions about the alternative assessment, she said.

John Katzman, the founder and chief executive officer of the Princeton Review, a New York City-based company that is a leading provider of test-preparation services, expressed deep skepticism about the new analysis commissioned by the College Board.

“The SAT is under attack because it predicts so little and costs so much,” Mr. Katzman said. “I’m a suspicious guy when it comes to the College Board.

“It will take a while to review statistics, but if history teaches us anything about the College Board, we can be confident that the research will be flawed or fraudulent,” he asserted.

Mr. Katzman questioned the study’s findings because a College Board researcher co-authored the study, it included the use of unpublished ETS studies for data, and it relied on only a few studies to make claims about predicting success later in college.

Wayne Camera, the director of research for the College Board and an author of the study, disputed claims that the board was simply trying to create a positive impression with the report.

“These studies have been out there for years,” he said. “They all show the test predicts college grades.”

He also challenged the notion that colleges and universities rely too heavily on the SAT, dismissing it as “folklore.”

“We have always said the SAT should only be one component of admissions decisions,” Mr. Camera said.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2001 edition of Education Week as SAT Said To Be Reliable Predictor Of College Success

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