Dispelling Some Myths about the SAT and ACT – Taken with a Grain of Salt

Today was a big day for many high school students around the country as they sat for the SAT exam. The results of the exam often play a significant, perhaps oversized role, in deciding what college a student attends.

Standardized tests have come under a lot of fire in recent years, and come colleges have even downplayed how much the results are used in the college admission process.

However, authors Nathan Kuncel and Paul Sackett, professors of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of Minnesota, wrote an essay in today’s Wall Street Journal which challenges many of the negative myths surrounding the SAT exam. The essay is adapted from their chapter in “Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Futures of College Admissions”.

I have always been a fan of the SAT, believing that it serves as a great equalizer when comparing students from two different schools. I’ve also heard many of the arguments against the use of the SAT exam, and so I looked forward to reading something that might offer some data driven support for my belief.

First, here is the list of the myths that the authors try to dispel in their essay, using their own research or the results of other research studies:

  • Standardized Tests Only Predict First-Year Grades
  • Standardized Tests Are Not Related to Success in the Real World
  • Beyond a Certain Point, Higher Scores Don’t Matter
  • Common Alternatives to Tests Are More Useful
  • Tests Are Just Measures of Social Class
  • Test Prep and Coaching Produce Large Score Gains
  • Tests Prevent Diversity in Admissions

So when I saw that list and read all the research that supported the authors beliefs that all of these are myths, I was quite intrigued. Here was some hard evidence to support my argument about the value of the SAT.

HOWEVER…

Everything looked legitimate until I got to the very last part of the article, where the Journal provides some biographical data on the authors. Here is the part that bothered me:

In the past they have received research funding from the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Once I saw that I had to take everything the authors said with a grain of salt. I had to be a little more cautious in using their arguments to support my case.

How critical were the authors going to be be about the SAT if they have been hired by the company that administers the test (College Board). Seems like the rooster watching the hen house.

Given the huge potential for bias towards the SAT from these two authors, I think in fairness the Journal should have allowed someone to write an article that talks about all the negative effects of taking the SAT.

Then, once someone read both articles, it would be up to that individual to make an informed decision about the value of the SAT.

But don’t just prevent one side (and potentially biased at that) to such an important topic, the WSJ is better than that.

2 thoughts on “Dispelling Some Myths about the SAT and ACT – Taken with a Grain of Salt

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