The Times Changin’…Follow Up

October 6th, 2008

Just received a comment from “Matt” on our Times They Are A Changin’ post. It is quite long so I’ll post an excerpt here. You can get Matt’s entire comment by clicking the link below.

It is readily apparent that lesser universities are against the SAT primarily because it is an objective measure of the students admitted to a given university. Scores of second rate colleges would love nothing more than to bolster their claims that they annually admit a student body that is equivalently bright to those at the elite universities. The fact is that they don’t. They can’t. Quite simply, they cannot attract the same interest from students with SAT scores that qualify them for the elite universities. How can these lower-tier colleges demonstrate that they are viable options for the top ranking students? They can’t. Instead, they propose the “solution� of destroying the best objective standard of student merit. Equally insidious, they propose that we replace this objective standard with a fuzzy “holistic� approach to student admissions. It should be apparent to everyone that this argument is inherently biased to benefit lesser institutions by destroying an objective hierarchy that threatens the self-esteem of admissions counselors at good (but not great) universities.


See the rest by clicking here.

First, I’d like to say thanks to Matt for commenting. We always appreciate open dialog on the Admissions Blog. I’ll (try to) keep my comments brief:

1) to your charge that the movement towards holistic admission is being pushed by lesser schools (your definition of which, I’m not sure of) see the quote that leads the Newsweek article from William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial at Harvard:

‘Society likes to think that the SAT measures people’s ability or merit. But no one in college admissions who visits the range of secondary schools we visit, and goes to the communities we visit – where you see the contrast between opportunities and fancy suburbs and some of the high schools that aren’t so fancy – can come away thinking that standardized tests can be a measure of someone’s true worth or ability.”

Also, you should know, this new wave of discussion is being generated, in part, by the College Board. They’re now saying (and have been saying for some time) that the SAT is not the best measure for predicting college success.

2) Your claim that the SAT is the most objective measure available: The evidence is overwhelming that there is a bias against students from first generation, poor and/or minority backgrounds. Nobody’s saying the SAT or ACT are useless, it’s just that they don’t come close to painting the picture.

3) Calling the holistic admissions movement “insidious” is hyperbole in every sense of the word. an insidious effort implies the intent to deceive combined with the intent to harm. Do you really believe that schools pushing towards a holistic view of college admissions have insidious intent?

4) It appears that your general argument revolves around charging schools moving towards holistic admission like Oregon State, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of Washington, Washington State University, Harvard Law and many others that are trying to level the playing field with actually disadvantaging “privileged” students. It should be obvious that students who attend private or elite public schools and can afford to hire folks who help them prepare for college have some pretty nice advantages already.

5) I do not appreciate your attempt to marginalize the students not in the Ivy league universities or other top ranked schools as inferior. I will assume you are, in part, referring to our students as we are pushing toward holistic admissions thus we must be, according to your argument, second rate. Come meet our students, talk with them instead of just brushing them off as “the rest”. But isn’t that the point? We are talking about real students here; Not just the top 5%. Ivy League institutions will, on average, admit 10-11% of their applicants. Are you really asserting that the rest of those students are second rate? Lesser perhaps?

Thanks again for your comments, Matt. I hope you will take my comments as civil. While I do not intend to offend or anger, I DO intend to wholly, but respectfully, disagree.

Anyone else have thoughts or comments? Love to hear from ya!


11 responses to “The Times Changin’…Follow Up”

  1. Jeff says:

    I looked over the data available publicly on , a college admissions & predictions website with snazzy graphics. It appears that the SAT, alone, does a reasonable job of predicting admissions.

    Now I know that the discussion here is focused on whether or not the SAT is a fair indicator, and if not, we should find something else to use in its place.

    Let’s say we’d like to replace the SAT. The first question I’d ask is, “Do we want a tool to allow for objective comparisons between students of different backgrounds?”

    That question matters, because its answer is not necessarily “yes.” If we don’t need that type of indicator, we can do without an SAT substitute. If we’re willing to take all-comers, or if we are willing to read over what the students write about themselves and use that as our basis for admissions, we don’t need the SAT.

    Only if we want to objectively compare between groups with different backgrounds who went to different high schools, etc., do we need some sort of SAT replacement. Controlling for income, geography, etc., the results of the SAT replacement should be equivalent across all groups; blacks and whites with the same background should perform equally well.

  2. James says:

    @ Jeff:

    1) I am not sure how provides any objective data at all on SAT reliability across racial and SES groups. Pretty much every major study of SAT validity shows a clear bias against people of color and low income folks. While may be a wonderful site…I’ll stick with the actual research. It’s pretty clear that the SAT drives admission decisions at many schools…But that’s the point. Schools who are using the SAT as a gold standard are barking up the wrong tree in the wrong forest.

    2) Given the overwhelming evidence against using the current standardized tests and the College Board’s own call to move admission towards holistic measures and away from the SAT (along with CB’s pledge to spend millions researching holistic measures) I think it’s pretty clear that the SAT as we know it ain’t long for this shindig.

    3) Standardization is crucial. Without standardization and repeatability the measure is a failure. We need to replace the SAT with a HOLISTIC MEASURE that is standardized and FAIR. Enter the Insight Resume:

    Ultimately, I think you are missing the point because you keep referring to “performance” in a good/bad context. Look, the point isn’t WHO does well and who doesn’t…The point is that the measuring tool isn’t even right for the job in the first place. Imagine trying to measure the length of a beam with a gram scale. Standardized tests fail to measure what colleges intend because they are outmoded and not meant to infer the information colleges infer about students from their results.

    That’s the crux of the bias argument; students from disadvantaged groups do poorly because the test was written with advantaged students in mind. Would you really argue that disadvantaged students do worse than their advantaged peers because they’re simply dumber? The point is to measure potential…Right? Just because a kid comes from the poorest most rural school in America with bad test scores doesn’t mean that she couldn’t whip anyone in a mental throwdown given a good education.


  3. John P. says:

    I agree that this measuring tool is completely misguided. It should be overhauled or eliminated 🙂

  4. Larry M. says:

    God I hate standardized testing! Please make this stuff go away!

  5. franco says:

    This testing test nothing but how bad you can fail, i always do really bad on them!

  6. anthony says:

    I dont think these SATs should determine if you get into a college or not. Many people that are able to get into these schools are still taking community classes so they dont have to pay the large university fees.

  7. alice says:

    Its tough to say how we should test our students to see who and who isnt qualified for universities. I must say though in the recent years as a teacher, I dont think schools weigh too much on student SAT scores. Yes they do matter but its just another piece of content they can use for evaluation. GPA and Honor courses can heavily over weight a bad SAT score.

  8. heather says:

    I think the system is fine just the way it is. I would take too long to sit there and evaluate each student and by the time you gave out all your scholarships there would still be better qualified students left out. This is a fast, easy and for the most part effective way in determining quickly if this student fits the requirements of a certain university.

  9. I agree with the responders point of view, the SAT is not an objective test and it will not demonstrate a students success future success with college.

    High school is a time of learning and developing ones self. The SAT’s don’t demonstrate someones dedication, determination or will to succeed in college. Many of my friends that did well on the SAT’s didn’t do well in college. In fact I’d say 25% or so completely dropped out of college altogether.

  10. Ronnie says:

    The issue is the additional factors involved that only counselors can gather up. THere are some smart kids out there that just dont have any care to strive to be better and therefore flop in school whereas others who just need the opportunity and can excel.

  11. Matt Engine says:

    I can see the merit of both traditional and holistic approaches to admissions. There can be a wide disparity in school quality. A holistic approach probably allows folks who have potential to achieve but have not yet achieved the chance they need.

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