Will Paying for SAT Scores Boost Baylor's Ranking?

There's no academic value in asking students already enrolled to retake a college admissions test.

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Baylor University's policy of paying already admitted and enrolled students to retake the SAT test so the school possibly can use the improved scores to pursue a higher spot in the America's Best Colleges ranking is causing a lot soul searching in academia. The New York Times, Inside Higher Education, and Chronicle of Higher Education have all weighed in with stories that criticize the practice.

The Baylor Lariat, Baylor University's student newspaper, which broke the story, has written extensively on the controversy surrounding Baylor's policy of paying students a $300 book credit at the school store for retaking the SAT test after they'd already been admitted to the fall 2008 class. If the additional test improved their SAT composite score (on the Critical Reading and Math parts of the SAT) by 50 points or more, they got an additional $1,000 merit-based "Baylor Scholarship."

According to Baylor University, 861 students, or about 28 percent of the fall 2008 entering class of 3,062, took the SAT again and earned the $300. Of those, 150 increased their scores by at least 50 points, earning an additional $1,000 each. As a result of the retesting, Baylor's fall 2008 entering class combined SAT average score went up 10 points, to 1210.

Baylor, it turns out, is very interested in moving much higher in the America's Best Colleges rankings. It has a very public long-term plan called "Baylor 2012" that has as one its many goals to be ranked 50th, compared with the school's 76th rank in the 2009 edition. As part of this goal, Baylor wants to increase its peer assessment score to a pretty lofty 3.7 out of 4.0, compared with its current 3.1. Both of these goals are clearly unattainable within five years.

So what impact would 10 additional points on the SAT scores have on a school's overall ranking in the America's Best Colleges? None. Test scores account for 7.5 percent of the U.S. News rankings. U.S. News does not use the actual SAT test scores in our ranking calculations; instead, we measure where a school's average Math and Critical Reading scores fall in the national percentiles of all SAT test takers. So, 10 points up on average test scores would result in—at most—two or three more percentiles, not nearly enough to move a school up even one place in the rankings.

The bottom line on Baylor's SAT retesting: There's no academic value in asking students already enrolled at the university to retake a college admissions test. U.S. News disapproves of any educational policy that's designed solely to manipulate data to boost a school's ranking.