Time for Michigan colleges to eliminate the SAT?

Paul Tough has a new op ed in the New York Times entitled Go Ahead, California, Get Rid of the SAT. It’s time for Michigan colleges to also consider doing away with the SAT as an admission requirement.

As Tough notes one of the few good things about the pandemic is that it has led to some colleges temporarily eliminating the SAT requirement for college admission. Here in Michigan it also is good news that we have eliminated standardized test requirement this year for all K-12 students.

Tough reports on “Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California, recommending that the entire U.C. system go test optional for the next two years, followed by two years during which the university would become not just test-optional but “test blind.” In 2023 and 2024, Ms. Napolitano proposed, Berkeley and U.C.L.A. and every other U.C. school wouldn’t consider SAT or ACT scores at all in their admissions decisions.”

Since Tough published his op ed, Napolitano’s recommendations were approved by the governing board of the University of California system. This is a huge change to the college admission process. And is something Michigan’s selective admission colleges should consider doing now as well.

Tough makes the case for doing away with the SAT in college admissions this way:

The students who are most likely to benefit from any university’s decision to eliminate the use of standardized tests are those who have high G.P.A.s in high school but comparatively low standardized test scores. These are, by definition, hard-working and diligent students, but they don’t perform as well on standardized tests. Let’s call them the strivers.

A few years ago, researchers with the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, analyzed students in that cohort and compared them with their mirror opposites: those with relatively high test scores and relatively low high school G.P.A.s. Let’s call them the slackers: self-assured test takers who for one reason or another didn’t put as much effort into high school.

The College Board’s researchers made two important discoveries about these groups. First, there were big demographic differences between them. The slackers with the elevated SAT scores were much more likely to be white, male and well-off. And the strivers with the elevated high school G.P.A.s were much more likely to be female, black or Latina, and working-class or poor.

The researchers’ second discovery was that students in the striver cohort, despite their significant financial disadvantages, actually did a bit better in college. They had slightly higher freshman grades and slightly better retention rates than the more affluent, higher-scoring slackers.

As we have often explored there is no path to an equal opportunity America without substantially increasing four-year degree attainment by children growing up in non-affluent households. A four-year degree is, quite simply, the most reliable path to a good-paying career.

As Tough documents in his book The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us one of the biggest barriers to achieving this is the college admission process, with its emphasis on the SAT, at selective admission universities. We have known for years that a student’s high school GPA is, by far, the best predictor of college attainment and yet we continue to overemphasize SAT scores and underemphasize high school GPA in the college admission process. Sure seems like the time to change this is now.

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