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SATs Aren’t Racist and Universities Should Use Them – HotAir

A majority of colleges and universities in the United States have stopped using SAT scores in their admissions process. Scores are either optional now or, in some cases like California’s UC system, not accepted at all. The reasons for this are clear to everyone involved. There has been a concerted effort by the left to ditch SATs (and any admissions tests) on the grounds that the tests are racist.

In California, the path to ditching the SAT started with a 2019 lawsuit brought by activists and the Compton School District. As the NY Times reported in 2021, “The plaintiffs said that the college entrance tests are biased against poor and mainly Black and Hispanic students — and that by basing admissions decisions on those tests, the system illegally discriminates against applicants on the basis of their race, wealth and disability.” When the UC systems ditched the tests a lawyer for the plaintiffs said the school had agreed not to use “racist metrics” in admissions.

But the plaintiffs, the UC system and all the college administrators around the country who’ve fallen in line with them are wrong. The SAT is not racist except in the sense popularized by people like Ibram Kendi, i.e. the only proof it’s racist is that black and Hispanic students consistently do worse on the tests. But this achievement gap isn’t caused by the tests and in fact isn’t limited to the SAT.

Yesterday David Leonhardt at the NY Times made the case for bringing back the SAT based on recent research which finds the test remain the best predictor of student success in college.

An academic study released last summer by the group Opportunity Insights, covering the so-called Ivy Plus colleges (the eight in the Ivy League, along with Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and the University of Chicago), showed little relationship between high school grade point average and success in college. The researchers found a strong relationship between test scores and later success.

Likewise, a faculty committee at the University of California system — led by Dr. Henry Sánchez, a pathologist, and Eddie Comeaux, a professor of education — concluded in 2020 that test scores were better than high school grades at predicting student success in the system’s nine colleges, where more than 230,000 undergraduates are enrolled. The relative advantage of test scores has grown over time, the committee found.

“Test scores have vastly more predictive power than is commonly understood in the popular debate,” said John Friedman, an economics professor at Brown and one of the authors of the Ivy Plus admissions study.

So if there is evidence that consistently shows test scores work, why haven’t more schools brought them back? To his credit, Leonhardt doesn’t sidestep the politics of this issue.

Standardized tests have become especially unpopular among political progressives, and university campuses are dominated by progressives.

Many consider the tests to be unfair because there are score gaps by race and class. Average scores for modest-income, Black and Hispanic students are lower than those for white, Asian and upper-income students. The tests’ critics worry that reinstating test requirements will reduce diversity.

There’s an even more cynical way to look at what the universities are doing. This was brought up earlier this year by Matt Yglesias at Substack. It’s not just that schools are worried about diversity, it’s that the tests make it possible for outsiders to see exactly how far academic merit and equality (of opportunity) has taken a backseat to equity. If you’re planning to cheat qualified people out of a top tier education, you need to hide the evidence that’s what you’re doing.

This is so obvious that it’s not worth beating around the bush: the schools leading the push toward de-testing are not making some kind of blunder, they are trying to get away with something. I’m fond of Talleyrand’s old quip “it’s worse than a crime, it’s a mistake,” but in this case, it’s a crime. SAT scores make it inconveniently easy to demonstrate anti-Asian discrimination in college admissions, so the industry is moving to burn the evidence…

Schools are moving to phase out the tests not because they want to admit a different group of people, but because they are anticipating a Supreme Court ruling that will try to make them change who they admit, and they don’t want to do that…

From the perspective of Harvard and its peers, the concern is almost exclusively public relations. If they admitted students based purely on academic standards (i.e., no special consideration of race, alumni parents, sports, etc.), they would have many more Asian students, many fewer Black and Hispanic students, and a similar number of white students, but those white students would be from somewhat less-rich families. This would be bad for their social prestige and their fundraising, so they don’t want to do it. And that choice means that the next tier of colleges has to do the same thing or else they will be the schools with very few Black and Hispanic students. This entire program of anti-Asian racial discrimination exists to spare a small number of super-elite schools the embarrassment of publicly admitting that, on average, Black and Hispanic high school students do worse than white and Asian students, even though this is clearly visible in the NAEP scores and many other measures.

There’s another argument brought up by Leonhardt against ditching the SAT, which is that test scores allow schools to identify minority students with great potential from smaller school districts who don’t usually produced a lot of Harvard applicants. Without access to test scores the best the colleges can do is guess which means they will sometimes guess wrong and enroll students who really aren’t as capable as some of the Asian students who were passed over.

In my view that’s a secondary issue. The main issue is that ditching the SAT is an attempt to make it easier to put concerns about equity ahead of the proper concerns about academic merit. SATs don’t cause the problems these schools are worried about, they only reveal them. If you want the outcome to be more equitable at the college level, you need find ways to fix the problem much earlier in the pipeline.

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