“Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies In American College And University Admissions”

This is a quick acknowledgement of a paper by William C. Hiss and Valerie W. Franks (http://www.nacacnet.org/research/research-data/nacac-research/Documents/DefiningPromise.pdf) as well as a KQED audio interview hosted by Michael Krasny (http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201402210930) which suggests that applicants to colleges should have an option to not submit SAT and/or ACT scores as part of their admission application.

I highlight this work because it is a fact that SAT and ACT testing are of little educational value and, as concluded in the study by Hiss and Franks, have little relation to a college student’s graduation success. However, this conclusion is of no surprise and the study would have perhaps been more enlightening if it had used a null hypothesis instead where they look for zero correlation between SAT/ACT test scores and college academic outcomes.

I view SAT and ACT testing organizations simply as businesses that provide an increasingly obsolete service and are fighting for survival (in the same vein that Kodak went through) – although test prep is rising as a new mass production business with significant financial stakes; a symbiosis of sorts. Historically, the analytics these tests provided were useful but we now know that a portion of test takers are able to game this system and measurement of academic strength needs to also include soft skills. An agreeable facet to the discussion on the KQED radio show is that college admissions offices should feel free to treat SAT/ACT scores as they see fit. There should be no hard and fast rule that SAT/ACT scores should be a specific part of the admission decision. Perhaps these testing organizations could rise to the occasion and offer analytics of the applicant’s statement of purpose or interview.

This study also focuses on the use of SAT and ACT scores in the college admissions process. But standardized testing has also infested the rest of primary and secondary education in the US and one can simply view the SAT/ACT tests as the final episode of pre-college educational assessment. I view this as the result of testing organizations trying to appear relevant – how else can one explain that a sensible examination system has not arisen in the US when it exists in many other parts of the world? So in order for SAT/ACT to become a non-factor and allowed to fade into memory, it needs to be cleared from the entire educational chain.

Actually, I can accept SAT/ACT as a fixture in the Proof stage of youth leadership development. Not requiring these scores for admission applications can be a distinctive marketing feature for the colleges that choose to go that route. However, such a feature does not seem to me to have any competitive advantage because the upside for admitted students will balance with the downside for the peer group. The argument that High School GPA would be a more reliable filter is not convincing since this statistic is cumulative and does not account for learning styles and differences (especially where a student’s learning style does not match what the school offers).

So, perhaps the best approach would be for high school educators to insist that testing agencies supplement the tests with personality and soft skills components, so that each student can decide which post-high school path is the best one for them. Use the SAT/ACT to create opportunities, not limit them.

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