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February 18, 2014 9:46 PM How Much Do the SATs Matter?

By Daniel Luzer

According to a recent piece at NPR, as far as trends in college admissions goes, SAT scores might not matter so much. Students who don’t bother submitting their scores do just as well as those who do. Is this the future of admissions? Will colleges move beyond the SAT?

Maybe they should, but it’s worth considering how colleges really use SATs: it doesn’t have much to do with eliminating unprepared students; it has a lot do with eliminating fully prepared students. That’s a lot of what admissions is really about.

According to the story:

Today, some 800 of the roughly 3,000 four-year colleges and universities in America make SAT or ACT submissions optional. But before a new study released Tuesday, no one had taken a hard, broad look at just how students who take advantage of “test-optional” policies are doing: how, for example, their grades and graduation rates stack up next to their counterparts who submitted their test results to admissions offices.

The study indicates that,

There was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “nonsubmitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for “nonsubmitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.

The study, conducted by longtime Bates College administrator William Hiss, indicates that there’s basically no difference between students who submit their scores and students who don’t.

Hiss says he hopes that his investigation “will be a first step in examining what happens when you admit tens of thousands of students without looking at their SAT scores. …If they have good high school grades, they’re almost certainly going to be fine.”

Well maybe. One problem with this hope is that colleges don’t necessarily use standardized tests to weed out applicants incapable of succeeding. Colleges know pretty well that most people who apply can do pretty well there.

For many that have to process a large amount of applicants, they rely on SATs extensively because that’s just an easy way to sort applicants.

Pretty much everyone knows it would be nice to be able to give each applicant a little more time, but if you have only 1,000 slots and 1200 high school students with A- averages, an easy way to shrink the list is to cut off everyone with an SAT under a certain number.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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