Thursday, November 20, 2008

SAT Test Passes As Predictor of College Success

For some years now, many elite American colleges have been downgrading the role of standardized tests like the SAT in deciding which applicants are admitted, or have even discarded their use altogether. While some institutions justify this move primarily as a way to enroll a more diverse group of students, an increasing number claim that the SAT is a poor predictor of academic success in college, especially compared with high school grade-point averages.

Are they correct? To get an answer, we need to first decide on a good measure of “academic success.” Given inconsistent grading standards for college courses, the most easily comparable metric is the graduation rate. Students’ families and society both want college entrants to graduate, and we all know that having a college degree translates into higher income. Further, graduation rates among students and institutions vary much more widely than do college grades, making them a clearer indicator of how students are faring.

So, here is the question: do SATs predict graduation rates more accurately than high school grade-point averages? The short answer is: yes.

In the 1990s, several SUNY campuses chose to raise their admissions standards by requiring higher SAT scores, while others opted to keep them unchanged. With respect to high school grades, all SUNY campuses consider applicants’ grade-point averages in decisions, but among the total pool of applicants across the state system, those averages have remained fairly consistent over time.

Thus, by comparing graduation rates at SUNY campuses that raised the SAT admissions bar with those that didn’t, we have a controlled experiment of sorts that can fairly conclusively tell us whether SAT scores were accurate predictors of whether a student would get a degree.


1. Stony Brook and Albany, both research universities: over four years, at Stony Brook the average entering freshman SAT score went up 7.9%, to 1164, and the graduation rate rose by 10%; meanwhile, Albany’s average freshman SAT score increased by only 1.3% and its graduation rate fell by 2.7%, to 64%.

2. Brockport and Oswego, two urban colleges with about 8,000 students each: Brockport’s average freshman SAT score rose 5.7% to 1080, and its graduation rate increased by 18.7% to 58.5%. At the same time, Oswego’s freshman SAT average rose by only 3% and its graduation rate fell by 1.9%, to 52.6%.

3. Oneonta and Plattsburgh, two small liberal arts colleges with 5,000 students each: Oneonta’s freshman SAT score increased by 6.2%, to 1069, and its graduation rate rose 25.3%, to 58.9%. Plattsburgh’s average freshman SAT score increased by 1.3% and its graduation rate fell sharply, by 6.3%, to 55.1%.

Conclusion: Among a group of SUNY campuses with very different missions and admissions standards, and at which the high school grade-point averages of enrolling freshmen improved by the same modest amount (about 2% to 4%), only those campuses whose incoming students’ SAT scores improved substantially saw gains in graduation rates.

Demeaning the SAT has become fashionable at campuses across the country. But college administrators who really seek to understand the value of the test based on good empirical evidence would do well to learn from the varied experiences of New York’s state university campuses.

~Peter D. Salins, professor of political science at SUNY-Stony Brook, in the NY Times

19 Comments:

At 11/20/2008 11:01 AM, Blogger Andy said...

This is very reasonable, but I think the policy implications are misleading.

If our goal is to give every student the best chance of graduation, it's not clear what purpose SAT scores serve. Perhaps they may even be harmful if students with lower scores think they are unlikely to graduate and thus give up?

 
At 11/20/2008 11:06 AM, Anonymous RebelRenegade said...

I love stuff like this. I had read casually a few times about SAT's not being a good predictor for college success compared to HS GPA. It sounded pretty reasonable at the time. Didn't know they were using it as an excuse to bring more diversity to the college campuses.

Now I feel much better about my SAT score.

 
At 11/20/2008 11:09 AM, Anonymous RebelRenegade said...

Andy> I don't see how it's harmful unless your belief is that everyone should go to college and get a degree, even if they aren't suitable for it.

If they know up-front that they don't measure up, it could save them a lot of time and money. The world needs plumbers and electricians and car mechanics too and you don't need a college degree for those. And you can still end up an entrepreneur without a college degree.

It's just not nice to say "well you don't really seem cut out for college". That doesn't mean you can't still try. There will be a market for students with lower SAT scores.

 
At 11/20/2008 1:43 PM, Anonymous qt said...

The way we actually assess and test students is not much different from the way things were done 100 years ago. Students with high graphoria, the ability to read and process information quickly tend to score better on exams.

Exams are a large portion of the overall mark. Many other abilities like structural visualization are not assessed through conventional testing methods.

SAT scores are a product of high graphoria, intelligence, ability to perform under stress and good study habits. These are all qualities that lead to academic success but they do not measure the full capabilities of the individual.

It always amazes me that educators so readily give up on students seldom wondering why the customer leaves.

Is it possible that the needs of the customer are not being met or that the student quits due to family or financial problems? Do students get fed up with sitting outside the lecture hall or on the floor because the university has signed up more people that the room can accommodate on the assumption that a percentage will drop out and the university will get the $ whether they deliver the product or not? In a class of 200, does the lecturer even know your name, let alone raise his voice so that you can hear him/her?

Do SAT scores tell us why students fail to finish their degrees? Do universities even know who the customer is here?

 
At 11/20/2008 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But are SAT tests a predictor of post-college success?

My SAT scores were over 1300 and I earn less than the median high school dropout.

 
At 11/20/2008 2:59 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

RebelRenegade said:

And you can still end up an entrepreneur without a college degree.


Please tell me, how does one without money become an entrepreneur?

 
At 11/20/2008 3:24 PM, Anonymous qt said...

I can see that it's tempting to elevate the SAT score requirement so that you end up with the only the top tier of candidates. Like getting the first draft pick in the NHL.

The problem with the approach is that you end up with a single test determining a person's entire future like the 11+ in the U.K. or entrance exams students take in Japan. Students who fail kill themselves in Japan.

Alternately, one could also analysis the problem and determine what skills are needed for success designing a university prep course to assist students to develop the skills they will need to succeed and provide aptitude testing to ensure that students' abilities are matched to their course of study. You certainly get individuals who are highly motivated and who know what they are good at but many students do not know. Sure, this approach takes time and effort as well as dollars.

The objective is however to ensure the ongoing competitiveness of the U.S. as well as ensuring that students reach their full potential.

 
At 11/20/2008 3:33 PM, Blogger 1 said...

"My SAT scores were over 1300 and I earn less than the median high school dropout"...

Yeah, sure they were...LOL!

"Please tell me, how does one without money become an entrepreneur?"...

Ask Bill Gates...

Ask Mark Zuckerberg...

Read the history about John Jacob Astor...

I wonder how many self made millionaires are on this list of 400?

Considering that the SAT tests were dumbed down and the amount of money spent per pupil has gone up, maybe the SAT tests aren't all that useful...

Here's a lovely indicator on how good the educational process is with regards to basic civics studies in this country today courtesy of USAToday: Those with bachelor's degrees had an average score of 57% vs. 44% for those with a high-school diploma. The average score for advanced degree-holders inches up to 65%, or a D...

Remember, these people were allowed to vote...

 
At 11/20/2008 3:53 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Poor Boomer,

Entrepreneurs comprise only 1% of the U.S. population. Not everyone has the motivation, and ability to be an entrepreneur and 4 of 5 businesses fail in the first 2 years. Entrepreneurs have to work longer hours, take fewer holidays, and go from feast to famine with the business.


America's small business development network centre is a good place to start. There are also many non-profits that offer assistance with writing a business plan, understanding the legal requirements etc.

 
At 11/20/2008 6:40 PM, Blogger like such as said...

Poor Boomer,

Your attitude is pathetic. As others have said already, there are far too many success stories in this country to keep track of. Very few entrepreneurs have trust funds to start off with. Most of them just have good ideas and a work ethic. Most fail, but many do not. Stop whining

 
At 11/21/2008 2:25 AM, Anonymous cddir said...

Was that a 1300 on the old test or the new test? (Which goes up to 2400?)

 
At 11/21/2008 8:32 PM, Blogger like such as said...

lol @ cddir

 
At 11/21/2008 10:18 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

1 said:

"My SAT scores were over 1300 and I earn less than the median high school dropout"...

Yeah, sure they were...LOL!
--------------------------------------

What's so funny? I stated a fact and you think it's a big lie.

Verbal 620, Math 720. If my AP calculus is correct (it's a little rusty after 35 years), that sums to 1340.

Care to laugh at my 3.9 GPA and 96th percentile class rank?

 
At 11/21/2008 10:20 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

1 said:

Ask Bill Gates...

Ask Mark Zuckerberg...

Read the history about John Jacob Astor...
--------------------------------------

Thanks, I'll get started on that!

 
At 11/21/2008 10:23 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

1 said:

Considering that the SAT tests were dumbed down and the amount of money spent per pupil has gone up, maybe the SAT tests aren't all that useful...
-------------------------------------

I think you are correct. Fortunately, I took the SAT in 1972, when the SAT was still useful.

 
At 11/21/2008 10:29 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

qt said:

America's small business development network centre is a good place to start. There are also many non-profits that offer assistance with writing a business plan, understanding the legal requirements etc.
------------------------------------

Thanks, I had largely forgotten about SBDC; I checked them out some time ago but locally they didn't have much that I thought I could use.

 
At 11/21/2008 10:34 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

like such as said:

Your attitude is pathetic. As others have said already, there are far too many success stories in this country to keep track of. Very few entrepreneurs have trust funds to start off with. Most of them just have good ideas and a work ethic. Most fail, but many do not. Stop whining
--------------------------------

Ah, but very few success stories started on fumes!

My monthly income is less than $1000. I pay $650 to rent a room in a house with nine people, $110 for medical expenses, plus a $135 student loan garnishment.

How am I going to get the money to fund a startup?

 
At 11/21/2008 10:43 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

cddir said:

Was that a 1300 on the old test or the new test? (Which goes up to 2400?)
---------------------------------------

Glad you asked. I took the "old" SAT in 1972, before it was dumbed down or otherwise changed.

p.s. I had considered UC Berkeley, but as a nonresident of California, didn't think I'd get in (plus I worried about paying the nonresident tuition), so I decided to enroll at another school. After deciding to go elsewhere, the AP scores (of 3 exams required by Berkeley) arrived with a cumulative 2200. Yeah, I really should have gone there.

 
At 11/21/2008 10:50 PM, Anonymous poor boomer said...

hmmm, those weren't AP exams I took, they were similar to the SAT (in format and scoring) but subject-specific (e.g. history). I did take two AP exams, calculus (3) and English (5). I did experience some degree of "senioritis" where I slacked off some after college admissions - I was certainly capable of a 5 in calculus and a 3 was entirely my fault.

I don't remember what the tests were called (something ":achievement" I think) and I don't know if they are still offered.

 

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