The test-taking genius who helped wealthy students cheat their way into prestigious universities was sentenced on Friday. A jury also found the water polo coach at the University of Southern California guilty of taking bribes to get kids with fake resumes admitted.
However, don’t expect the ongoing fallout from “Operation Varsity Blues,” a sprawling 2019 investigation that exposed the crooked lengths to which the super wealthy will go to get their children into top schools, to fix the larger system.
I wrote last week about the ongoing debate over whether the SAT and ACT contribute to greater inequity in college admissions. Following the reinstatement of the SAT/ACT requirement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I looked into the argument that standardized test detractors may be mistaken, as well as the belief at schools like MIT that test scores help them improve diversity on campus.
Without the SAT requirement, MIT’s admissions office was able to enroll a similarly diverse freshman class in 2021 as it had in previous years when it was required.
The admissions committee at MIT is well aware that family income predicts SAT scores twice as well as high school grades. More emphasis on high school grades and less on test scores is the most effective way to admit a more socioeconomically diverse class.
The real reason MIT is reintroducing the SAT is that it enjoys admitting students with exceptionally high SAT scores. Prior to the pandemic, almost every student admitted to MIT had a SAT math score of 780 or higher. Those astronomically high test scores were an important part of MIT’s identity, and MIT would lose that identity if it abandoned the SAT for good.
It’s no surprise, then, that the school has reinstated the test requirement. Standardized tests are an important part of the school’s identity. Other colleges have different ways of defining themselves.
According to the UC senate report, using the SAT did not increase diversity in admissions at UC. It was discovered that “disparities in the undergraduate population of the University along lines of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (SES) are a function of multiple factors, and that the SAT and ACT are smaller contributors” (p. 6).
Perhaps more controversially, the senate report claimed that test scores were a better predictor of college success than high school GPA. Even the College Board has never claimed that high school GPA alone is a better predictor than the SAT alone; their research has always found that high school GPA alone is a better predictor than the SAT alone. As a result, that claim drew a lot of attention, as well as a lot of criticism.
The central finding of the Senate report was “spurious, the statistical artifact of a classic methodological error,” according to a paper by Berkeley’s Saul Geiser. “When student demographics are factored into the model, the findings are reversed: high-school grades in college preparatory courses are actually a stronger predictor of UC student outcomes,” Geiser writes. He also discovered that, at UC, family income is three times more strongly related to SAT/ACT scores than high school GPA.
A report from UC Davis’ Michal Kurlaender and Kramer Cohen finds that high school GPA is a stronger predictor of first-year college GPA and second-year persistence than the SAT, and that “high school GPA as a predictor of college success results in a much higher representation of low income and underrepresented minority students in the top of the UC applicant pool than (does) SAT… test scores,” and that “high school GPA as a predictor of college success results.
An addendum from UCLA’s Patricia Gandara, one of the report’s authors, who felt the report’s conclusions were being misrepresented and misinterpreted. She penned, “Test scores have a disproportionate impact on applicants to UC who are members of groups that have been and continue to be victims of discrimination in the past. As a result, we support eliminating the use of these standardized test scores in admissions in a shorter time frame than the nine years proposed by the Report.” The official report did not include that dissenting viewpoint.
The goal should be to create clear, affordable post-secondary pathways that would allow millions more young Americans to get the education they need to succeed in life, whether it’s a certificate in HVAC technology or a doctorate in quantum engineering.