Although some of the essays in "SAT Wars" argue that both racial and gender bias is built into the test, there is little hard evidence to back the claim. Not only do SATs predict first-year college grades reasonably well, but their predictive value also continues throughout students' tenure, according to a carefully done meta-analysis of several studies by M.A. Vey and others in 2003. And rather than underestimating subsequent performance for minority students, SAT scores actually slightly over-predict how well black students will perform once in college.
So why are increasing numbers of selective schools deciding to make the test optional for applicants? The motive may have less to do with promoting diversity than it does with promoting higher college rankings by the schools that have gone SAT-optional.
Since the 1980s, U.S. News & World Report's annual issue announcing the rankings of competitive colleges and universities has become the most popular way to determine the quality and standards of America's colleges. Although SAT scores ostensibly count for only 10 percent of the overall ranking, a study of the correlation between average SAT scores and college ranking showed that there was an almost perfect correlation (.89) between the two. Thus, if lower-scoring students choose not to submit their scores at schools that permit it, the school's ranking may stay artificially high, even as the quality of the students admitted drops.
Standardized testing for college admissions began as way to level the playing field for students of ability to overcome whatever social or economic disadvantages they might have had when applying to elite schools. Traditionally, elite schools relied less on how academically promising the applicants were and more on whether they were well-connected. It is high irony now that those who most want to eliminate standardized testing do so claiming that they are promoting fairness -- when in fact they're still only promoting themselves.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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