Putting the SAT to the Test
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AS THE ACADEMIC COUNCIL begins its full examination of Atkinson's proposal, the debate is simmering at other institutions of higher learning.
"The SAT has always had some controversy attached to it," says Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. "But most schools have continued to use it as one element in admissions. With President Atkinson's speech, the interest in the SAT and its value may receive more attention on lots of college campuses."
Some universities, says Hartle -- who for 10 years was a research scientist for the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, the College Board spin-off that administers the SAT -- may now ask: If the UC, a very large and selective system, thinks it can do without the SAT I, what value-added is there for us by requiring the test?
The Ohio State University, in Columbus, is asking just that question. Although 85 percent of its applicants submit scores from the ACT -- the second-biggest admissions test, administered by American College Testing of Iowa City, Iowa -- the university still receives some 3,000 SAT I scores per year.
"Even though the SAT I is submitted with the minority of applications to our school, we've decided, based on the information we are hearing from California, that we need to take a closer look at it," says James Mager, OSU's associate vice president for enrollment services.Several hundred colleges and universities no longer require the SAT I for some of their entering freshmen, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass. They include Bates, Bowdoin, Connecticut and Mount Holyoke Colleges. While Bowdoin, in Brunswick, Maine, made the SAT I optional in 1969, Mount Holyoke, in South Hadley, Mass. -- which had required the SAT I for admission since 1926 -- changed its policy just last year.
"We felt strongly that the SAT I had taken on an exaggerated importance in students' lives in high school," says Jane Brown, Mount Holyoke's vice president for enrollment and college relations. "We very much wanted to send a message to students that we would encourage them to spend their time and energy in more productive ways." About 17.5 percent of applicants elected not to submit their scores. The college has received support from a private foundation for a five-year study to monitor the effects of its new policy.
Lafayette College, in Easton, Pa., on the other hand, canceled what would have been a five-year experiment of making the SAT I optional in 1999 -- a year earlier than planned. Some faculty members felt that there was a perception that schools that did not require the SAT I were not as selective, says Carol A. Rowlands, Lafayette's director of admissions.
Many of the nation's most selective universities say that the SAT I will remain an important element in deciding who will pass through their doors.
At Princeton University, Dean of Admission Fred Hargadon says the SAT I is helpful in selecting among prospective applicants who, in any given year, come from more than 5,000 secondary schools across the United States, as well as from 100 countries.
"The SAT I is an imperfect instrument, but it is better than no instrument at all," Hargadon says. "If we didn't have it, we'd be trying to create something like it. High school academic programs vary greatly in terms of resources, content, depth, breadth and quality of instruction. The SAT I is the only measure all applicants submit to us in common."