Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rethinking the SAT

Yesterday Inside Higher Ed reported that The College Board, creator of the highly disputed SAT test, did its own independent analysis about college admissions and diversity. The results agreed with critics of the test, saying that when you include factors other than just the SAT test, the diversity of students who eventually enrolls increases.

When you include what the article calls “non-cognitive factors,” you wind up increasing racial diversity in enrollment. The Board is looking at altering its test to include other factors that tend to indicate success as a student, including “artistic and cultural appreciation, multicultural appreciation, leadership, interpersonal skills, career orientation, perseverance and integrity.” It’s even looking to include questions on “situational leadership” to get not just bookish people, but also those that can show leadership in difficult situations.

Now, for the record, the article appears to define “diversity” in terms of race, not wealth or geography. I’ve written before about how the SAT might be “too white,” but we should be careful about separating out the cause and effect here.

The SAT, because there are so many expensive prep programs out there, tends to be skewed in favor of the wealthy, who can afford such classes. By and large the wealthy tend to be white in this country. There are definitely people of color who are successful at this test without the help of expensive classes. But the test itself tends to assume a certain cultural situation, one that is very specific and doesn’t necessarily depend on your success as a student.

That said, this becomes about priorities. If colleges consider it a priority to have a diverse student body (and I would say that economic and geographic diversity is as important as racial diversity), then they need to examine ways to change their system to include diversity, instead of lamenting that the one key test that they use in admissions tends to exclude a large number of minorities. But, if it’s important for a school to have students that score well on one particular kind of test, they should just keep doing what they’re doing.

The answer most schools seem to be coming to is that they do want to increase diversity on their campuses, so they’re including other admissions factors and sometimes even dropping the SAT altogether.

Cross posted at Pushback.

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