Tag Archives: SAT

Predicting Academic Success Using Shoe Size: Affirming the Action in College Admissions

By Robin Lee Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesMany higher educational institutions no longer rely exclusively on standardized tests as a primary indicator of future academic success. However, the courts continue to be bombarded by numerous allegations of rampant reverse discrimination, and public outrage that stems from students’ performances on standardized tests. In light of the insurmountable testimony from students and subsequently courts that profess that such policies undercut the university’s traditional colorblind, equal opportunity approach to admissions, educational affirmative action policies have come under considerable attack. And that approach, inevitably entails the overwhelming use of standardized scores as an indicator of subsequent success and admission.

Meanwhile, there has been no significant testimony to prove that the ATs (SAT, MCAT, LSAT) and GREs accurately predict academic success. In other words, a 1400 on the SAT still does not assure us of a rocket scientist. William Bowen and Derek Bok, in “The Shape of the River,” and researchers from the social, political and other sciences have unequivocally shown that exclusive use of standardized test scores are poor predictors of school success. In fact, academicians routinely disagree on the predictive nature of the SATs—the end result, multiple interpretations and somewhat murky conclusions and possibilities. Many believe that the SAT under-predicts the potential collegiate scholastic achievement for African-Americans and others, although few present supportive evidence to the contrary. In contrast, SATs are thought to be better predictors for Anglo academic achievement, and then, they still remain elusive in their predictive capabilities. Noted critic of affirmative action, Roger Clegg, in many of his articles appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, claims that the ATs are valid cognitive test for everyone. On the other hand, Critical Theorists such as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic in “Critical Race Theory” argue that, in fact, they provide little predictive value at all.

These conclusions should neither be considered good nor bad — just research that supports either argument. But, most importantly, all of the arguments support the fact that exclusive use of the ATs may be poor predictors of academic achievement—for everyone. Moreover, these seemingly complex admissions computations (which are not really that complex, they are typically basic mathematical manipulations of GPA, class rank, and test scores that assume students are disconnected variables, and only describe tangible variables –like grades) force us to be believe that intellect can be easily measured and predicted—or so one would be led to believe.

It could be argued that academic predictions and predictors may glean something relevant from the physicists. They know all too well how difficult it is to predict an event (Egon Guba and Yvonna Lincoln used this same argument years ago. See Naturalistic Inquiry, 1985). When Newtonian physics didn’t quite cut it, Schrödinger used something called quantum mechanics to calculate the probability of finding ONE electron in an atomic orbital. In fact, those equations require Hamiltonian operators to explain just where an electron is located at any given time. In fact, many physicists use supercomputers to do the calculations, and they still call it an estimate of where that ONE electron is located.

In fact, it is quite evident that, one should require more than algebra to describe human interaction, psychology, physiology, sociology and a host of other ologies. Especially, since none of us can seem to even predict something as simple as what college kids will wear to class from year to year. I would contend that these “prediction” equations would have some use, if you could supply… oh, about 1600 (1 for each of the AT points) variables to describe the complexity of each student—perhaps, and we would certainly need a supercomputer to derive the computation. For instance, a traumatic event, listening to music , walking early, playing some musical instrument, and parental education could all be weighted and assigned some human function (like the wave functions in quantum mechanics); or, perhaps we could consider shoe size. I would argue shoe size may be most cost effective. Accordingly, institutions of higher education may require a foot imprint on the application for the sake of authenticity. It would be much simpler. Ludicrous, perhaps, but do remember many current equations attempt to predict academic success by mathematically manipulating a few variables with a heavy emphasis on the power of a standardized score in an algebraic equation (not a differential equation, which would be more accurate given the assumption that one can predict the future).

The question then becomes, why is there an emphasis on prediction equations ? I have two hypotheses: First, there is the growing rhetoric and continuing assumption that standardized tests constitute an egalitarian system of selection (an oxymoron in and of itself) of students to higher education. However, they are routinely used throughout students’ educational careers to sort and select, i.e. by tracking, thusly perpetuating a system of inequality as early as kindergarten, and often times well before. Secondly, because, quite frankly, it’s efficient and cost effective. I submit as an example, if university X receives 16,000 applications for 7,300 freshmen spots, and the university has less than 10 admissions readers, it’s just easier to ‘chuck’ the applications with low test scores or test-GPA combinations (the algebraic equation).

So what should institutions of higher education do? What should we be doing? Many people, including myself would like to see a portfolio and interview process put forth into policy and action. Schools like Sara Lawrence College dropped the SAT altogether. Sara Lawrence College administrators describe studying for the SAT as an unhealthy obsession in an already stressful time. So instead, people who are interested in attending Sara Lawrence are expected to show academic success as reflected by course rigor and grades, teacher recommendations, and their ability to write.

Critics of this system argue that it is time consuming, and expensive to thoughtfully read and critically analyze this sort of thick descriptive data. But, is this not one of the main reasons why many choose a profession in higher education—research, rigor? Unfortunately, still others argue that it is a waste of time to interview potential candidates or look at portfolio information when we have bills to pay and no time to waste? Plus, we already have that prediction equation. Simply put, it makes good institutional economical sense to use numeric descriptors— that prediction equation. And, quite frankly many people honestly believe that they are some type of academic crystal ball that accurately predicts who will succeed and who will not. So, for now, I guess higher education will continue with this sort of skewed psychic hotline approach to admissions, where shoe size might one day become a variable for predicting academic success.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

 

Advertisements

Has The SAT Test Undergone A Backlash?

 By Elwood Watson

           

    There is a good chance that if you were a high school junior or senior applying to a four-year college or university you’ve seen a question like the following. “Select the lettered pair that best expresses a relationship similar to that expressed in the original pair:

 

BOW:VIOLIN

(A)   music:piano

(B)   brass:trumpet

(C)   drumstick:drum

(D)   string:guitar

(E)    note:flute

 

    The correct answer is C. From its conception 86 years ago in 1926, the scholastic aptitude test (more commonly known as the SAT) has been administered to thousands of high school students who have dreams of being selected to attend the college or university of their choice. Over the past few years, the SAT has undergone some significant changes. For one, in 2005, the analogy portion like the aforementioned question example was replaced with longer reading comprehension passages and a writing section. The perfect score that a student could obtain changed from 1600 to 2400. 

 

  The test has had a virtual stranglehold on parents, teachers and students. A large number of teachers gear their subject matter toward the test. Parents reach deep into their pockets to shell out as much as thousands of dollars for prep coaches, software and other assorted materials in an effort to help their children secure those high scores that are often the gateway for admission to many of our nation’s elite institutions. Many students have measured their intelligence by the test. For others, it has been a crucial portion of their self-worth. 

 

      Some teachers and guidance counselors view students with high SAT scores but with a mediocre grade point average as “lazy” or an” underachiever.” On the contrary, a student with low SAT scores and a high GPA is seen as “hardworking” or an “overachiever.” Rarely, does anyone rationalize the fact that such students are either good or poor test takers. Personally, I believe a major reason many students are entering college unable to write coherent paragraphs, let alone quality good papers and requiring remedial courses to master material that they should have learned in high school is these tests. The fact is too many high school teachers and administrators are spending too much misplaced energy on teaching to a largely problematic test as opposed to having students reading literature, writing essays and analyzing various critical works. To be blunt, the SAT has eclipsed the high school curriculum that high school students are supposed to learn.

      From time to time, the SAT has found itself at the center of controversy in many secondary and higher education institutions. Just last month, a blue ribbon panel of experts on higher education recently asked a number of colleges to reconsider or possibly end their SAT admissions mandates. The panel came to the conclusion that SAT scores are often a less than accurate predictor of college performance. They also reiterated the well-known fact that studies have shown that many lower income and students of color are often at a financial and cultural disadvantage when taking the test.   

            There are a number of higher education institutions that have decided to forego the “SAT as gospel” message. Rather, such schools have undertaken a variety of factors in an effort to assemble a well-qualified and diverse student body. High school curriculum, leadership, community activism, personal life histories and moral character are just a few. According to Jesse Mermell, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a Boston-based advocacy group, more than 40 institutions have dropped admissions tests since 2004. Among these schools are highly selective ones such as Smith College in Northampton, Mass. and Wake Forest University in N.C.     

         While there have been a few statistics over the years proving that the SAT can distinguish strong students from weaker ones, recent evidence and the emerging findings from NACAC have proven that Scholastic Aptitude Test measures one thing – a student’s ability at taking the test. It does not measure characteristics such as intelligence, creativity, motivation and perseverance. These are the qualities that a student must possess a certain amount of if he or she intends to successfully earn a bachelor’s degree. It is good to see that many parties – high schools, admissions offices and others — are working together to create an  admissions process that encompasses a holistic manner of selecting students for college as opposed to relying either primarily or disproportionately on standardized tests like the SAT that fail to measure crucial elements of a person. This is particularly true in the case of students of color.     

Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board  (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)