High School Grades and SAT: Still Best Predictor of College Success, Study Says

But the switch to the writing test format "did not substantially change" the test's ability to forecast first-year college performance.

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Changes made to the SAT—mainly a writing section added in 2005—"did not substantially change how well the test predicts first-year college performance." That was one of the key findings contained in a study released this week by the College Board, which owns the SAT. The study says high school grades continue to be a slightly more accurate predictor of college success than SAT scores. If there was reason to be disappointed by those findings, College Board officials did not give any hint while announcing them to reporters. Laurence Bunin, who serves as the general manager of the SAT program, said the SAT is still the most reliable test "in an era when grade inflation at the high school level is a major problem." He strongly urges colleges to continue to use both high school grades and SAT scores to evaluate applicants. According to the research, grades and SAT scores—used together—are the best predictor of college success.

The College Board added the writing portion and made other changes to the math and reading sections of the SAT three years ago. At the time, critics complained that the verbal and math SAT was biased against certain groups and not a reliable measure of academic performance. The revamped SAT appeased some critics, like the University of California system, which had threatened to stop requiring the test. Others remained skeptical, choosing not to put too much emphasis on the SAT writing score. It's still too early to say how the new research from the College Board will alter the admissions landscape. Before the findings were officially released, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit group in Cambridge, Mass., critical of standardized testing, issued a statement saying the changes to the SAT were "not a serious attempt to improve the test" and would not stop colleges from making the test an optional requirement for admission.

College Board officials said they are pleased with the changes they made and have no immediate plans to make any more changes to the SAT as a result of their research.

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