An inconvenient test
The long era of the dominance of the SAT in college admissions is coming to an end.
The test is increasingly being shelved not because it failed but because it succeeded in all the wrong ways.
According to a survey from an anti-testing outfit, more than 80% of four-year colleges won’t require standardized tests for admissions this coming fall. Many have made the tests optional, and some won’t consider them at all. In a swath of academia, the pandemic expedient of dropping the tests has seamlessly transitioned to a permanent change.
If this isn’t a leap forward for fairness or rationality, it is another ringing victory for the equity of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” fame. With homework now on the chopping block for not being equitable enough — kids with involved parents tend to actually do their homework — it shouldn’t be a surprise that the SAT is being shown the door.
(If only there were some time-honored arrangement to have two adults wholly devoted to the well-being of one or more children regardless of their race or income and providing support, discipline, and moral instruction.)
The SAT, with its signature four-option multiple-choice answers, isn’t perfect. As a mass-administered, easy-tograde, objective test, though, it’s hard to beat.
Despite progressive denialism, it has been established that the SAT and ACT predict academic performance.
As the renegade academic Freddie deBoer points out, there is a correlation between family income and SAT scores, but it doesn’t account for most of the divergence in scores.
Nonetheless, other metrics that schools consider in the admissions process are just as susceptible, if not more, to socioeconomic factors.
As the writer and scientist Erik Hoel puts it, “On the one side there is the litany of activities, academic successes, and school pedigrees that make up the bulk of a good college application, and the massive amounts of wealth and parental involvement that implies from essentially diapers onwards, and, on the other side, there’s a $20 Kaplan SAT prep book and getting your butt in a chair to go through example problems.”
MIT, which can’t fool around thanks to its demanding math requirements, has bucked the trend toward minimizing or dumping the SAT. The dean of admissions explained in 2022 why the school was bringing back the SAT requirement after the pandemic: “Our ability to accurately predict student academic success at MIT is significantly improved by considering standardized testing — especially in mathematics — alongside other factors.”
The deeper problem with the SAT, of course, is that it doesn’t produce the racial outcomes that the people who run institutions of higher education, especially elite ones, want.
The test that has been smeared as a tool of white supremacy is a conveyor belt for Asian Americans into top colleges in numbers that college administrators find embarrassing and inconvenient. So, they have an affirmation-action regime designed to keep those numbers down, and fine-tune the racial balance of their student bodies to their liking.
This is where the SAT is unwelcome in another way. As a measure of preparedness with hard numbers attached, it provides incontrovertible evidence of the racial bias against Asian Americans.
With a potential loss in the Supreme Court’s big affirmative action case looming, colleges and universities are already finding a way to finagle out of the decision. Without the SAT, they can continue to get the racial results they want without as obvious a paper trail.
In Agatha Christie terms, the crime will no longer be carried out with a candlestick but small, untraceable doses of arsenic.
If it’s harder to find the best future students, or at least the continued from page
best future students who haven’t been building their resumes toward an impressive college application from a very young age, so be it.
You can have the twisted notion of equity that now prevails throughout our elite culture, or you can have a test that demonstrates academic talent regardless of race, but you can’t have both. Academia is making its choice.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.