Once-mighty SAT losing its clout
Nearly 800 colleges drop exam as entry requirement
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / November 24, 2008
Finora Franck didn't study for her first go-round with the SAT, and it showed. Now the senior at Boston Latin School is keeping her flashcards close at hand, hoping the algebra and geometry formulas will stick this time.
But as Franck prepares to retake the test, she is more angry than nervous, frustrated that a so-so performance on a four-hour test could eclipse four years of hard work and strong grades.
"At the schools I'm looking at, my score's a no-no," she said, naming Columbia University as her first choice. "The SAT is not my friend. We just don't get along."
Increasingly, colleges are coming over to Franck's point of view. The SAT (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test), that longtime teenage bugaboo and pillar of the college admissions process, is under heavy assault on several fronts.
Earlier this year, Smith College and Wake Forest University decided to drop the standardized test as a requirement for admission. The colleges, two of the most highly touted among nearly 800 schools to take the step, cited studies that the test favors wealthier students, and voiced growing concern that SAT results are not valid predictors of college success.
This fall, the country's leading college admissions group, led by Harvard's admissions dean, urged colleges to downplay test results in their acceptance decisions and to consider ending the SAT requirement. Coming after a year of study, the National Association for College Admission Counseling's report marked the most far-reaching critique of the role of the controversial test thus far and has rekindled the long-running clash over the proper use of the test in admissions.
At the same time, a new College Board policy that allows students to show colleges only their best scores drew criticism that it would mainly help wealthy students who could boost their scores with high-priced tutoring.
People who believe colleges place too much weight on test results say the renewed scrutiny could mark a tipping point in the debate.
"Time will show we're on the right side of history," said Audrey Smith, director of admission at Smith College. "We all know we can make well-informed admissions decisions without it."
"It is not an intelligence test, and aptitude is going to be strongly affected by opportunity," said Tom Parker, dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College, which requires the test. "And the difference in opportunity [between the rich and poor] is almost unimaginable."
As a result, students from low-income families who have attended mediocre schools and who scored 1,000 on the SAT may be every bit as talented as wealthy suburban students with standout scores, Parker and other admissions officers say.