The Cynical Take on the SAT Test

More than 820 colleges and universities no longer require students to submit their SAT or ACT scores to be considered for admission.While that’s wonderful news for anybody who bombs on the SAT or ACT test, there is an ugly side to the test-optional movement that you should know about.

I began wondering a few months ago about whether the published ACT or SAT scores at colleges that don’t require them are now artificially high. To satisfy my curiosity I began comparing the current SAT test scores at some SAT-optional liberal arts colleges with their scores from 2005. It was amazing how many of these schools had improved their total SAT scores by 30, 40, 50 points or more.

I seriously doubted that the SAT score inflation was simply due to brighter kids applying to these colleges.

Actually, there is something else at play here. Let’s think about this for a minute. It’s the kids who do poorly on the SAT — or a portion of the test — who are going to withhold their scores. You can bet that those who do well on the ACT or SAT are going to want schools to know about it.

But what happens if a college or university only uses the submitted test scores when calculating its SAT or ACT ranges? The published scores are naturally going to skew higher.  And this will leave the impression that the students attending a particular school are smarter than they actually are — at least measured by test scores.

Intimidated by these higher scores, some high school students are going to cross schools off their list because they will assume that these institutions are too far out of their league academically. Some teenagers won’t apply because they will also assume that they can’t receive good aid packages or merit aid with their less stellar scores.

My suspicions about the SAT scores were born out by a fascinating study conducted by Maguire Associates, which is a higher education consulting firm that advises dozens of schools. I’ll share some of the  conclusions of the Maguire study tomorrow.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.

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