July 26, 2009

Test Optional

Lynn O'Shaughnessy has a good article in the NYT on "The Other Side of 'Test Optional'" about why the growing trend toward some colleges not requiring SAT or ACT scores is more of a ratings scam than, as it's usually presented, a rebuke of the culturally biased obsession with trivial testing.

For example, Dickinson College in Pennsylvania admits 13 percent of its students without their submitting their SAT/ACT scores. So, when it reports its 25th and 75th percentile tests scores to US News & World Report's rating system, it's really reporting more like its 38th and 88th percentiles, giving it an artificial leg up on the competition. Plus, "test optional" attracts more applications, most of which get rejected, making the college appear more selective and exclusive.

The article explains that Muhlenberg, a college that Thomas Sowell has cited over the years for its integrity, is one of the rare test optional schools that tracks down the test scores of admitted freshmen and includes them in the numbers it submits to USN&WR.

In practice, "test optional" is probably mostly used to admit athletes, donor's scions, celebrities' children, and affirmative action kids. Since many of those are recruited through face to face meetings, I would hardly be surprised if the test scores were "shown" to admissions officers even if not formally "submitted."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

And what of the test-opposed schools who do not accept SAT or ACT scores from anyone? Are you suggesting that they are trying to bring in a student body comprised of less than the best students?

Steve Sailer said...

They have a niche, but it's a small one. Either that, or they're so desperate for business that they'll take almost anybody who pays.

In general, American higher education is test score obsessed, which is what "test optional" is largely about -- boosting reported test scores.

Anonymous said...

Look at these colleges as businesses.

Those that are not votec or speciality schools in fields like music are almost entirely 3rd rate as far as higher learning goes.

They will never compete for the best students on any level. Why not gut the standard, so you can bring in dumb and unqualified rich kids and NAMs to goose the endowment and boost national rankings?

For many of these kinds of schools, the standards arm race is doomed to only exaggerate their inferiority in the winner take all competition.

AMac said...

On June 7, 2009, the Baltimore Sun had "More schools recoil on SAT: Signs of unreliability and bias steer Loyola College, others toward ‘test-optional’ stance" on page 1 (available for a fee from their archives). The article contained the standard happy-clappy.

--- begin excerpt ---

Loyola College [of Baltimore]’s Jesuit tradition calls for it to serve students who did not start with every economic, social or geographic advantage.

Widespread research, meanwhile, shows that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT favor those from privileged backgrounds and that such tests are less predictive of college success than excellent grades and a rigorous course load in high school.

So, in search of a more diverse and accomplished student body, Loyola has joined a grow ing list of colleges and universities that no longer require applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score.


“We have a very strong retention rate, the students are performing well, our faculty is satisfied,” said Ellen Neufeld, vice president of student affairs at Salisbury [University, a test-optional school]. “My mind draws a blank when I try to think of anything negative associated with it.”


--- end excerpt ---

Based on an article linked on iSteve last month, I wrote the following to the reporter:

--- begin email ---

If you are curious about the larger issues that frame the narrow points discussed in your June 7 piece "More schools recoil on SAT," you might be interested in this article by an English professor at Annapolis about USNA admissions policy.

The circumstances are unfortunate, most would agree. When The Sun cannot mention such facts as do not accord with the world-view of its employees and owners, is it truly a news-paper?

As a subscriber, I wish that I could see vigorous pushback against groupthink of whatever stripe. This wasn't in evidence when times were good, and doesn't seem to be part of the mix now, either.

--- end email ---

Didn't hear back. (Damn readers.)

Now it turns out that that educrat's "My mind draws a blank when I try to think of anything negative associated with it" quip was even cleverer than it seemed. The old "bug or feature?" routine.

Anonymous said...

Test - optional.

Collateral - optional.

Income - optional.

Competence - optional.

Knowledge - optional.

Evidence - optional.

Epitaph for a culture: They Didn't Give a Damn.

James Kabala said...

"almost entirely 3rd rate"

I don't know if that's true; most of the schools whose names appear in big bold letters are well-regarded schools (presumably that's why they are highlighted), and some other decent schools are on the list as well.

Never underestimate mere trendiness as a factor - if SWPL has taught us nothing else, it should have taught us that.