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Standardized tests such as the American College Testing (ACT) or Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are used by the majority of colleges in America. They are used as a rationing tool, a method to weed out those that lack the capability or capacity to comprehend and learn. Do you have to take a tests to cook fry's at McDonalds or can you see WinCo asking you to figure out that "untruthful" is to "mendaciousness" as "circumspect" is to "caution"? (Wildavsky 46) So why are college admissions boards' looking at these tests so often to make a decision that will affect a student for a life time?
The thought behind these exams was excellent, when they were first created. They were going to predict how a first year college student would adapt to a colleges education system. By using these exams colleges would be able to admit students with the highest chance of successes. According to R. Atkinson and S. Geiser, in 1901 fewer than 1,000 examinees took the very first exam given by the College Boards for admission into college. Today over 1.5 million students take the SAT, 1.4 million sit for the ACT, and many students take both. This does not take into account many more who take preliminary versions of college entrance tests earlier in school, nor does it include any of those who take the SAT Subject Tests and Advanced Placement (AP) exams. By 1923 most prestige's college had established a form of testing trying to eliminate personal influence and choice in the admission processes in the hopes of acquiring the best possible candidates for their school.
Do SAT scores really matter in the admissions process do they work? It all depends. UC- San Diego, freely admit that getting in is almost all about grades and scores. "Our admissions process is formulistic, not holistic, and I believe that's the best way to go, says Richard Backer, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at UCSDâ€¦ At the moment, I can tell the parents who call exactly why their son or daughter didn't get in. I don't have to give a subjective answer." (Wildavsky 46) Today over 60 percent of the colleges weigh heavily on the SAT or ACT exam over the achievement a student does in high school. Obviously these exams work; with more students applying a way to select them is needed but is there a better way? Why change the system now? (Atkinson, R. and Geiser, S. 665-676) Well for one there are stories like the one Esther Walling tells us, "she is a college counselor at Jefferson High School in South Central Los Angeles, she says her low-income, Latino students generally do not test well on the SAT, although they are very capable. One of the school's stars, 17-year-old senior Pascual Ramos, has earned straight A's in nine rigorous Advanced Placement courses. But he only managed a combined score of 1080 on the SAT--above the national average of 1019 but well below what elite schools expect. He's applied to several UC schools as well as private universities such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, and--his dream campus--the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I'll get into a couple of them," he predicts. "I only worry about my SAT scores."(Wildavsky 46)
We can also look at hypothetical situations like this one Roger E. Studley points out in an interesting dilemma that exposes how complicated it can be when admitting students using standardized tests. Imagine you have two applicants both with a 3.7 high school grade point average but who come from very different schools and family backgrounds. The one applicant's school sends few students to college, neither parents has a college degree, and is poor. She scores 1190 on the SAT I and the average score for a person with these circumstances is 900. The other applicant comes from more advantaged circumstances and scores a 1290 on the SAT I, and the average score for this applicant's circumstance is 1200. The dilemma he proposes is as follows: If the college must choose between these two students, should it select the more advantaged student who scored 90 points better than expected? Or should it select the disadvantaged student who, despite scoring 100 points lower, surpassed expectations by 290 points, more than three times the margin achieved by her peer? (Ricci 4)
Standardized tests like the ACT/SAT costs money every time that you take them. Low income families have a difficult time paying for them or the pre-test. Students that do not live in low income areas are able to take the exam as many times as the wish as long as they pay of it. They can in many cases afford to take prep classes so they can score higher. Low income students do not have this luxury and as we will see later their scores suffer. Proponents of standardized testing often point out that low income families can take the test for free. This is true the College Board does offer two free test for the financially deprived or the poor as they are commonly referred, but that does that compare to students that take classes, the per-test and then take the test four or five times before they submit their highest score to a school.
"Score Choice" (College Board) is another problem that started in 2009, giving the student the ability to choose what score that will send to a prospective school. When sending in an application unlike in past years were all scores from all exams were sent so the board would see every attempt with the corresponding scores. The College Board now allows you to choose what set of scores you wish to send to each school. "Score Choice is designed toâ€¦ give students the option to choose the SAT® scores by test date and SAT Subject Tests scores by individual test that they send to colleges and universities, at no additional cost. The feature is optional; students are not required to use it. If a student chooses not to use Score Choice, all scores will be sent automatically.' Supporter of this new program because colleges, universities and scholarship programs use SAT scores in different ways in the admissions process, it gives the ability to display how a institution's uses the SAT scores. Also Score Choice is designed to reduce student stress and improve the overall test-taking experience by giving students the option to choose the SAT scores by test date and SAT Subject Tests scores by individual test that they send to colleges and universities, at no additional cost."(College Board) But if you only have one score how does this help you?
Not present in the 1920's when standardized style tests really took hold of the admission process are minorities. Minorities historically score lower than their counterparts that take tests such as the ACT/SAT. With the end of affirmative action colleges and universities look at the percentages of minorities in America and try to ensure minorities have equal access to higher education. When looking at the ACT/SAT test scores it is clear that minorities are at a disadvantage "A record 37% of the 1.4 million college-bound seniors taking the test in 2004 were minorities, up from 31% in 1994, says test sponsor The College Board. The percentage of first-generation college-bound students also grew to 38% of all SAT takers and to 53% of black and 69% of Hispanic SAT takers."(Toppo 2004)
"The USA Today reported scores didn't keep pace with the average white student's, whose total score in 2004 was 1059, 20 points higher than in 1994. Asian students' scores rose 42 points. But black students' scores rose eight points; Mexican-American students' scores rose three points."(Toppo, 2004) "SAT results showed persistent racial and ethnic gaps. Black students trailed white students, who had the highest reading scores of any ethnic or racial group in that subject, by 99 points. Those of Mexican heritage scored lower by 75 points, and those of Asian descent lagged by 12 points. In math, Asian students posted the highest scores, with white students trailing them by 51 points, black students lagging by 161 points, and students of Puerto Rican descent behind by 137 points." (Gewertz 10) Only about one third of all exams being given are to minority students and with test scores that are 20 percent lower in math and 12 percent lower in reading, how can we honestly tell our children that testing is fair? Several colleges placing such a high amount of emphasis on these tests it is clear that minority students are sending in application at a disadvantage before the admission board even receives their package.
So what is the best ways to help achieve a fair and balanced admission process? Many thoughts are out there about redoing the system but what if we decided not to reinvent the system but shift our thoughts to a system that is already in place, that has been used to predict high school students successes rates better than these tests. There are programs that can accomplish what the ACT/SAT exams tend to do but only better and can help college admission boards more accurately reflect the true ability an applicant has. Many scholars feel that we can adapt the standards based assessment tests currently being used from grade k-12 to achieve a greater idea of a students' knowledge and possible academic achievements.
Two professors think they have the solution, Dr. Sigal Alon of Tel Aviv University in Israel and Dr. Marta Tienda of Princeton University believe that "eliminating the weight of college entrance exams and using a full-file review to select students using performance-based measures of merit - such as class rank extracurricular activities and students' background and circumstances - will improve campus diversity."( Kamara 7) This idea can easily be substantiated when you look at the research that Sauk Grisler and Roger Studley concluded in 2003. The UC system has required applicants to take not only the SAT I but the SAT II achievement tests since 1968. The UC system is a good laboratory for admissions research; it includes a mix of highly selective and less selective campuses such as UCLA and UC Riverside. The data showed that achievement based tests were consistently superior to SAT style tests in predicting college outcomes, including outcomes for poor and minority students (S. Geiser, with R. Studley 1-26.).
With all the data showing that minorities and the fiscally improvised are at disadvantages before they even send an application to a college admission board due to exams like these would in not make more sense to just look at what a student has done over 12 years of school and not what they did in 3 hours of their lives with pencil? Kids live and die by what they score on that three-hour test," says Ray Brown, dean of admissions at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. "If I never again hear a student say to me, `I'm just a 1050,' it'll be too soon." (Wildavsky 46)
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