SATs Help Colleges Make Smarter Admissions Calls

Fair and reliable, the tests level the playing field, for the student and the school.

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Gaston Caperton, former governor of West Virginia, is president of the College Board, which owns and develops the SAT.

Decision-making has been greatly aided in this age of technology by the availability of accurate data. The wise use of data was slow to be adopted in the field of education, but today it has become critical to the decision-making process. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan often talks about how the proper use of critical data sets can measure, monitor, and improve student performance. The "test-optional" policies that a few colleges now use in their admissions process are completely contrary to a national movement toward the use of more rather than fewer data in the decision-making process.

The SAT is the most widely used and most heavily researched college admissions test in the country. In combination with other data, such as a student's grade-point average, college application essays, and letters of recommendation, the SAT has proven to be a valid, fair, and reliable data tool for college admissions. All of the available research supports this point. The great majority of our nation's colleges and universities accept the SAT as an integral part of the admissions process, and most that require the submission of the SAT do so because they know they can make better admissions decisions if they have as many data as possible about every student applicant.

The college admissions process is like most other activities in our increasingly complex society: The more data and information we have available, the better decisions we can make. Nearly all college admissions officers in the country share this perspective.

The SAT offers a standardized, level playing field in the admissions process, where grade inflation has made it difficult to weigh the real value of the GPA of a student from one school against that of a student from another. In 1987, 27 percent of SAT takers reported high school GPAs of A plus, A, or A minus; by 2007, this figure had grown to 43 percent.

That's one reason most college admissions officers tell us they rely on the SAT to be an objective measure of college readiness. It's often the only such measure at their disposal.

Test-optional colleges know that students who do well on the SAT will most likely submit their scores, while those who do poorly probably will not. The result is a higher average SAT score for their institution. Test-optional colleges also know that they will see an increase in their application pool, and if they still admit the same number of students as in the past, their percentage of admits will make them look more competitive in the ranking process.

While most test-optional institutions aren't necessarily trying to "game" the system in these ways, some experts argue that a few institutions have implemented a test-optional policy simply because it means greater national status for their college—not necessarily because it's in the best interest of students.

Some argue that the SAT is unfair to minority students, but the research clearly shows that the SAT is not biased against any ethnic or racial group. The College Board takes its mission very seriously: to connect students to college success, with a commitment to excellence and equity. The goal of the college admissions process is to help every student find a college that best matches his or her interests and needs. The more data that colleges have in helping make admissions decisions, the better they serve students and their families.

As the issue of standardized test use attests, college admissions is a difficult and complex process. Despite the challenges, colleges nationwide excel at helping students of all backgrounds ultimately achieve their dreams of a college degree, and it is a privilege to be a part of this critically important work.

Read why a student is more than a test score, by Jill Tiefenthaler of Wake Forest University.

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