State Standards, the SAT, and Admission to the University of California

A new PACE policy brief, by Michal Kurlaender, University of California Davis, Eric Grodsky, University of Minnesota, Samuel J. Agronow, Saint Mary’s College of California and Catherine L. Horn, University of Huston.

Like most other universities in the country, the University of California (UC) requires that students submit scores from either the SAT or ACT exams as part of their application package. These tests have their origins in the efforts of a handful of elite colleges and universities to expand the socioeconomic diversity and enhance the academic promise of their admissions pools; to reduce the number of tests students must take to apply to college and the burden this places on both prospective students and postsecondary institutions; and to provide a means of comparing students who attend different schools with potentially different grading standards. Despite the appeal of a nationally standardized college entrance exam, critics have asserted that standardized college entrance exams (and the SAT in particular) suffer from several important flaws. These critics argue that the SAT does a poor job of predicting success in college conditional on student high school grades, is biased against women and under-represented minorities, is coachable and thus advantages more affluent families who can afford to pay for test instruction, imposes an additional hurdle on first-generation college students unfamiliar with the steps they must take to gain admission to a competitive college, and is disconnected from the content and performance standards for state K-12 educational systems.

In an increasingly K-16 policy environment, it is important to consider whether and how tests used to monitor the progress of students through secondary education might serve as a substitute for college entrance exams in the college admissions process. This analysis provides important evidence for reconsidering the decision to privilege college entrance exams over state mandated standardized exams for purposes of college admissions at public universities. The analysis in this brief reveals that the CST exam (required for all California high school students in the 11th grade) offers remarkably similar levels of predictive power in determining college performance, and persistence at UC, to that of the SAT.

State Standards, the SAT, and Admission to the University of California

One comment so far

  • George Bohrnstedt December 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    While an interesting set of analyses is presented in this paper, it would seem important to have also included two additional analyses — models that would evaluate how well first year grades are predicted (1) from the SAT when controlling for CST scores and (2) from the CST when controlling for the SAT. That is, does either of these tests add explained variance when controlling for the other. These analyses would help in making a decision about whether the SATs are needed by admissions committees. Having stated this, isn’t it interesting that a general measure like the SAT does as well as the CSTs which were crafted to reflect the CA standards. This is not a point made in the paper. But by far the most interesting results (for me) have to do with the role of writing in the prediction of first year grades. This result fits with my own view of the importance of writing and should be shared with members of Congress as they consider re-authorizing ESEA. It is noteworthy that writing is NOT one of the tested subjects in the current NCLB, but as these results show, clearly should have been. And of course, writing should be added to the CST exam battery as well.

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