Diversity and the SAT

by guest author Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the SAT Program at the College Board

In a move that has been much discussed among its current student body, Ithaca College recently announced that students applying for 2013 admission will have the option of withholding their SAT scores from consideration during the admissions process.  The statement by Ithaca College maintains that, as a result of dropping the SAT as a requirement, it is “anticipated that the applicant pool will become more diverse, as underrepresented students tend to take greater advantage of test optional policies.”

More than ever the population of students taking the SAT reflects the diverse makeup of America’s classrooms.  In fact, SAT takers from the class of 2012 were the most diverse SAT class ever: 45% self-identified as being minority students; 28% reported that English was not exclusively their first language; and, most tellingly, 36% reported that they would be the first generation of college goers in their family.

The SAT was created to democratize access to college for all students.  SAT scores provide a national, standardized and fair benchmark that neutralizes the risk of grade inflation – a particularly important point when more than 40 percent of SAT takers report an “A” GPA.

Furthermore, the SAT is the most rigorously researched college entrance exam and is consistently shown to be a fair and valid predictor of college success for all students, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status.  Each potential SAT question is reviewed by external subject matter experts, subjected to an independent and external sensitivity review process, and pretested on a diverse sample of students from around the world.  Any question that performs substantially different for any gender or ethnic group is eliminated.

Ithaca College and all schools should be recognized for constantly examining their admissions processes, making adjustments to expand opportunities to new applicants and diversifying their student bodies.  As a true believer in the mission of the College Board – helping to connect all students with college opportunity and success – I hope that colleges and universities choosing a test optional admissions policy continue to take the same thoughtful approach as they review the results.

As a former high school teacher and dean of students, I believe in giving students every opportunity to showcase their strengths.  In this case, Ithaca may well be short-changing both the university and potential applicants by eliminating a valid and reliable measure such as the SAT from the admission process.


3 comments on “Diversity and the SAT

  1. The SAT is providing a “national… benchmark”…. but the SAT and the stats provided by Jennifer show that the SAT is becoming much more international.

    Whenever I tutor students, most of whom are non-native English speakers, most of my “SAT Prep” time is spent deconstructing SAT questions. These students have fair enough math, reading, and writing skills, but so many of the SAT questions assume the test taker is a native English speaker. While the collegeboard eliminates questions that don’t fit on the bell curve, there is definite language bias.

    Good thing? Bad thing? I don’t know. I just know that the good test prep tutors internationally are not teaching students to ‘hack the test’, rather, we are helping students understand what the questions are actually asking.

    Hopefully that brings more qualified international applicants.

    -Do admissions officers weigh international SAT scores differently than they weight American student SAT scores?


  2. Hard to decide what’s “fair” here – on the one hand, a language bias does make things more difficult for students from some backgrounds.

    On the other hand, U.S. colleges will be dealing primarily with English-language material, books, professors, college towns, fellow classmates..

    I mean, it’s the classic question of whether individuals should adapt to the institution, or should the institution change to accomodate the individuals.

    Personally, I lean more towards the former, and believe the SAT should continue to be used as a useful benchmark of student readiness, in combination with multiple other angles so that student-applicants can be seen as human beings with diverse skills, interests, and abilities.

    Ultimately, the college campus has to add up to a cohesive whole for the higher education to be successful. I still believe that standardized testing is a useful aid in this regard.

    Just my $.02.

  3. As a “good test taker” and a seasoned SAT coach, I understand the limitations of any test to measure true ability. After all, the test is quite coachable, and this definitely gives students who have the money to pay for private tutoring/classes an advantage in the college admissions process.

    But Jennifer’s remark about being standardized stands out to me as the primary reason why standardized tests should not be ignored. The only way to compare apples to apples is to have a standard measure of academic competency. Using high school GPAs just doesn’t cut it; every school calculates grades differently, and those calculations are rather subjective (they are a long way from the statistically calibrated precision of the SAT).

    The real problem is not with the SAT, but with the lack of equal opportunity in SAT preparation. Maybe if our education system invested a bit more in college readiness, including offering free, high-quality SAT courses, then we wouldn’t see strong correlations between family income and SAT scores as exposed in this NY Times article: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/sat-scores-and-family-income/?_r=0.

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