Education Sector’s Mr. Aldeman, one of the prolific writers on The Quick and the Ed, has declared dead the usefulness of the SAT/ACT. It wasn’t his idea; he read it in Crossing the Finish Line:
Crossing the Finish Line has things to say about virtually every important factor in college life, but by far the most important thing is this:
The SAT and ACT do not matter in predicting college success.
I have been an unequivocal supporter of using the SAT/ACT* in making college admissions decisions (see here and here), but this sample of students and the rigor of this study are impossible to ignore.
No one should ignore what’s in Crossing, but I’m not about to gobble it hook, line and sinker.
The conclusions are based on a ton of data:
“Crossing the Finish Line, an important new book by former Princeton president William Bowen, former Macalaster College president Michael McPherson, and Matthew Chingos, relied on two massive databases on the entering class of 1999–one on 96,000 first-time freshmen and 30,000 entering transfer students at 21 flagship universities and the other on 108,000 freshmen and 42,000 transfers at less selective state colleges and universities in four states (Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia)–to compile a wide-ranging book of empirical research on topics impacting American higher education.”
Aldeman details his position-reversal on the value of these tests:
I have been an unequivocal supporter of using the SAT/ACT* in making college admissions decisions (see here and here), but this sample of students and the rigor of this study are impossible to ignore. Here’s what the authors found:
- Taken separately, high school GPA is a better predictor of college graduation rates than SAT/ACT score. This findings holds true across institution type, and gets stronger the less selective an institution is. High school GPA is three to five times more important in predicting college graduation than SAT/ ACT score.
- SAT and ACT scores are proxies for high school quality. When the authors factored in which high schools students attended (i.e. high school quality), the predictive power of high school GPA went up, and the predictive power of SAT/ ACT scores fell below zero.
- High school quality mattered, but not nearly as much as the student’s GPA. Other research, most notably on Texas’ ten percent admission rule, has proven this before. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, but it shows that a student’s initiative to succeed, complete their work, and jump any hurdles that come up matters more than the quality of their high school.
Then he asks, “What should various actors do with this information?”
As I wrote on the Quick’s blog entry, here’s why:
“Keep in mind that Alderman’s entire argument – and the authors’ – rests on the definition of “college success” being “graduation” or “obtaining a degree/certification.”
In theory, that’s sufficient. I’d prefer to talk about reality.
In reality, some degrees are watered-down and border on useless. At some institutions, the majority of programs fall into this category. If we pretend for a second that the degrees they award are little more than certificates of attendance and good standing with the Bursar’s Office, we do higher education reform a disservice.
Bowen, McPherson and Chingos, in a roundabout way, may have just proven not that SAT/ACT scores indicate nothing, but that high school GPA-as-harbinger means higher education is increasingly mimicking the weakness of the average American public high school.”
Mr. Aldeman et al.: Get serious about what a degree means – and what it doesn’t – and then we’ll get to work on the value of the ACT/SAT. Until then, I’m not about to worship at the altar of Crossing along with the EdSectorites.
Come to think of it, Education Sector could profit a bit from ACTA’s What Will They Learn?
17 Responses to “SAT and ACT Mean Nothing?”
- “I Don’t Want to Ruin My GPA” — Education for the Aughts - American School Issues and Analysis - [...] week we found out via EdSector’s Chad Aldeman that the SAT/ACT are useless. The GPA, he says, as he ...
- Two good articles « Mr. Bailey on the Web - [...] The amount of money involved is particularly troubling since these tests have been shown again and again not to ...