Friday, March 20, 2009

More on Colleges and Standardized Tests

Earlier this week I said I found it interesting that colleges were moving away from standardized tests while K-12 school rush to test more. Some apparently are in doubt about the first part of my statement. While none of the top 20 universities have declared the SAT/ACT optional on their campus, a growing number of reputable schools have. Here's a list of 815 colleges who don't require SAT/ACT for all students. I have no idea if this trend has reached its zenith or if this list will continue to grow, but it seems clear to me that the trend in college admissions has definitively shifted toward placing less emphasis on standardized test scores.

CNN wrote about the movement away from SAT/ACT scores a year ago, USA Today wrote about it three years ago, and the NY Times featured an article on the topic six years ago. And I won't get into all the coverage of other steps taken to deemphasize standardized test scores.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with colleges that have moved in this direction, I think it's notable that they have done this in the midst of perhaps the largest expansion of standardized testing in K-12 schools in our nation's history.


Nancy Flanagan said...

I wouldn't expect mainstream Top 20 colleges to move in this direction; the reason they're the "top" 20 is because they embrace a Thorndike-style "scientific" measure of human ability. They're the 20 highest-scoring examples of a particular conception of academic merit.

The colleges who are experimenting with this are also looking at a alternative definition of merit, and exploring other questions of what it means to be educated, in the broadest sense of the word, rather than duly credentialed by a prestigious institution.

Being educated might mean a set of new experiences that change one's perspectives through the study of diverse beliefs and important knowledge. Or it might mean demonstrating that one has memorized and internalized a great deal of disciplinary content, with no changes in personal beliefs as a result.

If you think the first definition is correct, you'll probably want to populate your educational experience with a pretty global range of knowledge, ideas and beliefs. If you are convinced that the second example represents rigor or merit, you'll be taking the SAT as many times as it takes to get you into the college you think is going to launch your career.

I do agree that it's interesting to see colleges re-evaluating their admissions procedures. Perhaps their detailed, laborious procedures weren't yielding curious, eager scholars, only post-HS kids going through the motions.

Wonder where they learned to do that?

Eve Proper said...

I've used Fairtest's website myself in classes on admissions, but the list is misleading in that many of the institutions on it are nonselective schools that have never used standardized test scores. The real trend is much smaller and has been confined mostly to semi-selective schools trying to boost the number of applicants and become more selective. (It works.) Wake and Sewanee were big news precisely because they were the most selective institutions yet to drop the SAT.

I think it's worth noting though that there are some huge differences in the way NCLB-compliant tests and the SAT/ACT are used. First, state K-12 tests are less interested in individual results than they are in group performance, whereas SATs are designed to measure individuals. Second, (theoretically) NCLB tests measure learning, whereas the SAT measures ability. Third, NCLB only cares about reaching a floor, a minimum, while the SAT uses a scale where there is no universally accepted minimum score and the goal is to get as close as possible to the ceiling.

Thus, the college trend isn't necessarily "opposite" the K-12 trend, because the testing in question is so very different.