SAT Score May Overestimate or Underestimate College Applicants, Reveals New Study

Posted By Terri Williams on March 28, 2016 at 9:38 am
SAT Score May Overestimate or Underestimate College Applicants, Reveals New Study

High school grades and college admissions tests play a major role in determining if an applicant will be accepted into – or offered scholarships to – their preferred institution of higher education. However, researchers at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business question the objectivity of using these methods to predict a student’s success in college.

“Differential Prediction Generalization in College Admissions Testing,” which was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, found that these generalizations might unfairly hurt or help students.

The researchers used the College Board’s SAT data (the College Board administers the SAT) examining samples from 176 college and universities including the following:

  • 339 samples of 257,336 female students and 220,433 male students
  • 247 samples of 29,734 Black students and 304,372 White students
  • 264 samples of 5,681 Hispanic students and 308,818 White students

In Indiana University’s press release, lead author Herman Aquinis, chair of the school’s management department and also one of the business school’s professors, says “Hundreds of thousands of students probably have been denied admission or denied scholarships just because of their ethnicity or gender when standardized tests are central in the admissions process — but not against blacks or against women necessarily. It goes both ways. The paper is about predicting performance for all people, and the bias we found sometimes benefits one group and some other times the other.”

Aquinis argues that depending on a student’s gender or race, their performance may be overestimated or underestimated, and as a result, some students may not gain admission to their desired school, or they may not receive a scholarship offer based solely on whether admissions officers and other decision-makers think they will do well – and this determination is based on their test scores.

An imperfect indicator

One issue with using college entrance exam test scores is the varying degrees of preparedness that students undergo. Wealthier and more diligent parents often obtain tutors for their children, and these students may retake the tests multiple times to improve their score. According to The New York Times, it can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,600 for 30 hours of group counseling. A New York-based individual tutor (who claims to increase test scores by an average of 400 points) charges $1,000 per hour. However, children from disadvantaged families or families that are not as involved in the educational process usually don’t have access to these levels of preparation.

Also, some critics argue that the format of these tests may favor certain types of students over others. For example, some students don’t do well with timed, multiple-choice tests. What’s more, depending on their cultural background, some test-takers may not be familiar with the examples or some of the slang language used in standardized tests.

GoodCall spoke with an expert in this area, and she told us that she is against using standardized tests as a way of measuring a student’s future success. Simma Lieberman of Simma Lieberman Consulting in Berkeley, California, is a diversity consultant specializing in the area of bias and its impact. She tells GoodCall that SAT scores – and similar tests – should never be used to predict a student’s performance for several reasons.

Predicting future performance based on SAT does not take into account such factors as critical thinking, curiosity or love of learning, argues Lieberman. She also says that SAT/ACT scores do not measure a student’s motivation. “It’s that motivation and quest for knowledge that drives someone to aim high.” Using herself as an example, Lieberman says that when she was in school, she had very high SAT scores, but didn’t care about school and was not motivated. She actually dropped out of school for several years. On the other hand, Lieberman says that she had a neighbor who could not gain admittance to a “good school” because of his SAT scores, but he eventually became an executive VP at a technology company.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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