SAT General Information Under the Helping Hands Research Paper

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Under the helping hands of school counselors, parents, and teachers, more than 1.2 million high school seniors took the Educational Testing Service's SAT in 2008 (Zemelman et al., 2008). ETS makes and administers the aptitude test for the College Board, a nationwide consortium of colleges and universities. But for all practical purposes, this is a monolithic SAT organization. Call it the ETS/College Board alliance. Besides the SAT, an additional one million seniors took its Iowa City cousin, the ACT college admissions test, produced by ACT Inc. In either case, students, parents, and counselors have been subjected to the relentless message that the tests (Blumer, 2004) although not infallible, of course; are good predictors of one's prospects for college success. That has been the take-home message of the admissions testing industry's sales force for decades, and little has changed in recent years. For example, a sampling of ETS and College Board statements in 2008 about the relative merits of its SAT I (the verbal and math reasoning test) includes the following:

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The ETS: "High school grades have great value, but they are subject to variability from place to place. Standardized admissions tests offer colleges and universities a fair and impartial way to compare students from different school situations. Literally thousands of studies have found that the combination of grades plus test scores is a more effective predictor of the students' readiness than either one alone." (Clementson & Wenger, 2008). The College Board: "No one can accurately predict with 100% certainty what your grades will be in college. . . . However, colleges use SAT I scores to help estimate how well students are likely to do at its school." (College Entrance Examination Board and Educational Testing Service, 1999). The College Board: "Many colleges require the SAT I because it is a standard way of measuring a student's ability to do college-level work." (Goetz & LeCompte, 2001). Donald M. Stewart, former president, The College Board: "SAT scores provide a vital piece of information about a student's ability to perform college-level work." (Goetz & LeCompte, 2001)

• Title of the test

Research Paper on SAT General Information Under the Helping Hands Assignment

SAT Reasoning Test (formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test

• Author(s)

Educational Testing Service

• Publisher and date(s) of publication

Publisher: College Board



Taken together, those statements; the official ones carefully worded, Stewart's decidedly not so careful; leave counselors, parents, and high-schoolers with the highly misleading impression that the SAT is an adequate predictor, or even a good predictor, of college success. There is also the clear implication that the test has great utility to colleges in screening applicants. Moreover, the ETS/College Board alliance has exacerbated those misleading statements about the SAT's predictive validity in their public reporting on the question of test bias. For instance, the ETS/College Board alliance, in an attempt to counter public rhetoric that the SAT is biased against women and minorities, has gone to great lengths to show that the SAT actually over predicts freshman grades for blacks and that it actually somewhat under predicts the academic performance of whites. Their studies have also shown that freshman grades for women are slightly under predicted by the SAT. However, to a public unfamiliar with the technical argot of the testers, the ETS/College Board test-bias studies have led people to naively assume that the test is a good predictor of academic success. After all, if it is not biased against minorities, it must be valid (Callahan, et al., 2005).

However, the test-bias issue, which is subject to a great deal of public controversy and misunderstanding, is a red herring. The attention paid to test bias permits test makers and users to avoid the far more compelling issue of the predictive validity admissions tests (Zemelman et al., 2008). The fact that the tests are not biased against particular ethnic groups; in the sense that they do not significantly under predict their academic performance; says absolutely nothing about how well the tests predict success for all individuals. As it turns out, from scores of independent studies over the years by well-respected researchers in highly-regarded journals, the prevailing view of merit has been erected on a rather shaky foundation of scientific evidence about the real usefulness of admissions tests for predicting accomplishment in college or even graduate school. It is worthwhile looking at some of this evidence in detail, because the public's generally favorable views about the validity and utility of the tests surely has sustained the privileged position that college and university entrance testing continues to occupy in the American meritocracy (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2005).

Validity Evidence

By far, the bulk of the evidence about the power of college admissions tests to predict academic success comes from examinations of the SAT, particularly what is known as the SAT I exam of verbal and math "reasoning" (Brown, 2002). A fewer number have investigated the ACT, and a smattering of occasional studies have looked at various other sorts of admissions tests as well as tests intended to help institutions place college students at the proper academic level. Mostly, researchers have studied the relationship of SAT scores and the one outcome for which the SAT is actually designed to predict: freshman year grades. In other words, counselors, parents, students, and colleges cannot make any inferences about one's chances of success beyond the freshman year based on SAT scores. Even by that restricted criteria, the SAT falls well short of the ETS/College Board's implicit claims. To get a flavor for what the researchers have concluded about the validity of admissions tests, consider a handful of studies from a variety of academic settings (Clementson & Wenger, 2008). Public colleges and universities. Consider the California State University System, consisting of several campuses in cities throughout the state. At CSU, freshmen are admitted according to an eligibility index of high school grades and test scores. Students earning a high school grade point average of at least a B, or 3.0, are not required to submit standardized test scores. Estimates show, however, that as many as 90% of seniors submit test scores nevertheless.


Sheila Cowen and Sandra Fiori set out to evaluate the relative utility of test scores and high school grades at CSU's Hayward campus in a study of the academic performance of 762 regularly progressing students and another 210 "slower progressors," considered to be at greater risk for academic failure (Appalachia Educational Lab, 2004). Overall, for both males and females and all ethnic groups, high school grades were the most powerful predictor of the academic performance of Cal State university freshman. In statistical terms, high school grades accounted for about 18% of the variance in freshman grades. SAT scores did help improve upon that prediction, but the gain was barely measurable; just five one-hundredths (from 18% to 23%). For the slower progressing students, the SAT's added value was virtually zero (Goslin, 2007). Nevertheless, the researchers found no evidence of test bias in the SAT. That is, the test didn't significantly over- or under predict freshman grades for any ethnic group. Absence of bias, the researchers concluded, is no reason not to scrutinize the SAT's usefulness to Cal State. Indeed, the authors say, their study "leads to the conclusion that educators need to intensify the search for better predictors of college performance" (Goetz & LeCompte, 2001). Another recent study looked at the predictive power of the other popular college entrance exam, the ACT, at Chicago State University. This time, however, researcher Sandra Paszczyk was interested in determining whether the ACT could help the university assess a student's chance of success in broader terms than just freshman GPA, instead looking at one's grade point average at graduation from the university.

At both extremes of very high and low test scores, the ACT had modest powers of prediction. However, for the majority of the university's graduates who scored in the middle range of the test as high school seniors, the test could explain merely 3.6% of the differences in final grade point averages (Clementson & Wenger, 2008). That means, of course, that factors besides the ACT; from grades to motivation to work habits, and so on; accounted for virtually all the variance in grades. Indeed, in one case the ACT proved to be counter predictive. In the Chicago State study, the fall 1992 graduating class had the highest average ACT score (17.9) among the 428 students studied between 1990 and 1993. Among the graduates, that class also produced the poorest academic performance during their years at the university (Herman & Golan, 1990)." Highly selective institutions. Even among the elite American colleges and universities, which admit a relatively small fraction of the number of high school seniors who apply each year, standardized admissions tests have not lived up to the implied validity claims of their proponents. Consider a study at the University of Pennsylvania. Jonathan Baron and M. Frank Norman looked at the outcomes for some 3,800 students admitted to the university, who majored… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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