This week “Inside Higher Ed” (www.insidehighered.com) published results from a recent study that concluded that two of the four sections on the ACT “have little or no ability to predict whether applicants will succeed” in college. This study found the ACT Reading and Science sections did little to accurately predict students’ ability or freshman year grades. Similar questions have been raised about the SAT’s validity and ability to predict college success.
I’ve read a lot of articles and blog posts responding to the “Inside Higher Ed” article. All I can think is, “So! Does this really surprise anyone?” Year after year I’ve seen hard working students struggle to get their SAT and ACT scores to reflect the ability they have demonstrated in the classroom and I think we all know a couple of lazy students with poor grades who have unbelievably high test scores. So is it really that surprising that an official study finally has the numbers to back up what educators have witnessed for years?
Can we expect changes to the test? Could this foretell the downfall of standardized testing for college admission? Don’t hold your breath! People have been predicting the end of standardized admissions tests for decades. I have a well-meaning neighbor who sends me dozens of articles every year with the same theme – the SAT / ACT is going away. My neighbor wants to make sure I don’t wake up one morning and find myself without a job. I thank her for each article and let her know that business is stronger than ever.
The SAT and ACT aren’t going away just because they are imperfect. Yes, there are more universities with selective admissions joining the “test optional” movement. These schools make sending SAT or ACT scores an optional part of admissions. When no scores are sent, the admissions office evaluates the student based on high school grades, activities, essays, and anything else submitted for admissions review. But an overwhelming majority of universities still require scores.
Predictive validity studies contribute to the scholarly debate, but have little impact on students. Most educators, whether on the high school or college side of admissions, will admit that standardized admissions tests are flawed, yet with record levels of applications for admissions, many institutions can’t see a world without the SAT or ACT.
These tests still offer some value in the college admissions process. Most will agree that all high school graduates should show proficiency in reading, math, writing, problem solving, and communication. As a standardized tests allow colleges to compare students from different geographic areas and educational backgrounds.
If the SAT and ACT aren’t going away any time soon, students need to put aside the debate and controversy and make the best of the current reality. The fact is, preparing for a major test, like the SAT or ACT, can make a difference. Test prep doesn’t need to be a crazy, time-consuming, soul-sucking process that robs students of their youth. Test prep can be as basic as learning about the exam and polishing the academic skills tested. Often students who are more familiar with a test will feel more comfortable and confident and will be better able to focus on the material. Don’t forget that standardized admissions tests are only one piece of the college admissions picture; you shouldn’t prepare for the SAT or ACT and neglect other factors such as grades, classes, and activities. If the tests do change, you want to be prepared with a strong academic and extracurricular record.