The original purpose of the SAT was to sort students for the “right” college. Their scores on the tests would show whether they could succeed in an selective college. The designer of the SAT was Carl Brigham, a psychologist who had been a pioneer in developing IQ tests. Brigham wrote a book about intelligence expressing the then-common belief that IQ was fixed, innate, measurable, and inherited. Brigham also believed that different races and ethnic groups could be ranked by IQ. Since he believed that IQ was fixed and that it was tied to one’s race and ethnicity, there was little that schools could do to raise up children’s intelligence other than to identify it and place them in the right track. Brigham was the chief scientist who developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, as it was then called. Today it is simply the SAT, standing for nothing in particular. It replaced the College Boards, which relied on essays and written answers, in 1941; the decision was made on December 7, when the U.S. joined World War 2. The machine-scored test was faster, easier to grade, and cheaper. (You can read more in my book “Left Back,” where I describe the history of standardized testing, which is rooted in the history of intelligence testing.


We now know that SAT scores are supposed to predict future success in college, but high school grade point average is a better predictor.


Our frequent commenter “Democracy” posted these thoughts on the SAT and the ACT:



Part 1


The SAT is a badly flawed and virtually worthless test, unless one is interested in determining the family incomes of students. And many colleges are, for reasons that have nothing to do with academics.


The best predictor of success in college is high school grade point average (including SAT score doesn’t add much). Moreover, research shows that “the best predictor of both first- and second-year college grades” is unweighted high school grade point average. A high school grade point average “weighted with a full bonus point for AP…is invariably the worst predictor of college performance.”


The College Board, which produces the PSAT, SAT, and Advanced Placement courses and tests, now recommends that schools “implement grade-weighting policies…starting as early as the sixth grade.” The SIXTH grade! If that sounds rather stupid, perhaps even fraudulent, that’s because it is.


College enrollment specialists say that their research finds the SAT predicts between 3 and 15 percent of freshman-year college grades, and after that nothing. As one commented, “I might as well measure their shoe size.” Matthew Quirk reported this in ‘The Best Class Money Can Buy:’


“The ACT and the College Board don’t just sell hundreds of thousands of student profiles to schools; they also offer software and consulting services that can be used to set crude wealth and test-score cutoffs, to target or eliminate students before they apply…That students are rejected on the basis of income is one of the most closely held secrets in admissions; enrollment managers say the practice is far more prevalent than most schools let on.”


The authors of a study in Ohio found the ACT has minimal predictive power. For example, the ACT composite score predicts about 5 percent of the variance in freshman-year Grade Point Average at Akron University, 10 percent at Bowling Green, 13 percent at Cincinnati, 8 percent at Kent State, 12 percent at Miami of Ohio, 9 percent at Ohio University, 15 percent at Ohio State, 13 percent at Toledo, and 17 percent for all others. Hardly anything to get all excited about.


Here is what the authors say about the ACT in their concluding remarks:


“…why, in the competitive college admissions market, admission officers have not already discovered the shortcomings of the ACT composite score and reduced the weight they put on the Reading and Science components. The answer is not clear. Personal conversations suggest that most admission officers are simply unaware of the difference in predictive validity across the tests. They have trusted ACT Inc. to design a valid exam and never took the time (or had the resources) to analyze the predictive power of its various components. An alternative explanation is that schools have a strong incentive – perhaps due to highly publicized external rankings such as those compiled by U.S. News & World Report, which incorporate students’ entrance exam scores – to admit students with a high ACT composite score, even if this score turns out to be unhelpful.”


Part 2


As most people know, the Princeton Review does quite a bit of test prep for the SAT. Here’s Princeton Review founder John Katzman on the SAT:


“The SAT is a scam…It has never measured anything. And it continues to measure nothing. And the whole game is that everybody who does well on it, is so delighted by their good fortune that they don’t want to attack it. And they are the people in charge. Because of course, the way you get to be in charge is by having high test scores. So it’s this terrific kind of rolling scam that every so often, somebody sort of looks and says–well, you know, does it measure intelligence? No. Does it predict college grades? No. Does it tell you how much you learned in high school? No. Does it predict life happiness or life success in any measure? No. It’s measuring nothing. It is a test of very basic math and very basic reading skill. Nothing that a high school kid should be taking.”


Here’s author Nicholas Lemann –– whose book The Big Test is all about the SAT –– on the SAT’s severe limitations:


“The test has been, you know, fetishized. This whole culture and frenzy and mythology has been built around SATs. Tests, in general, SATs, in particular, and everybody seems to believe that it’s a measure of how smart you are or your innate worth or something. I mean, the level of obsession over these tests is way out of proportion to what they actually measure. And ETS, the maker of test, they don’t actively encourage the obsession, but they don’t actively discourage it either. Because they do sort of profit from it…every time somebody takes an SAT, it’s money to the ETS and the College Board. But there is something definitely weird about the psychological importance these tests have in America versus what they actually measure. And indeed, what difference do they make? Because, there’s two thousand colleges in the United States, and 1,950 of them are pretty much unselective. So, the SAT is a ticket to a few places.”



Part 3


As to AP courses and tests, the hype is as great or greater than with the SAT. Students are told that if they want to be “well prepared for academically strenuous college classes” then they have to take “rigorous” high school classes, and counselors tell them that means AP classes. Jay Mathews of The Post has popularized the myth that “AP is better.” But the research doesn’t support Mathews’ contention, although students seem to understand the importance of constructing a facade. Students admit that ““You’re not trying to get educated; you’re trying to look good.” And “The focus is on the test and not necessarily on the fundamental knowledge of the material.”


Klopfenstein and Thomas (2005) found that AP students “…generally no more likely than non-AP students to return to school for a second year or to have higher first semester grades.” Moreover, they write that “close inspection of the [College Board] studies cited reveals that the existing evidence regarding the benefits of AP experience is questionable,” and “AP courses are not a necessary component of a rigorous curriculum.”


The College Board routinely coughs up “research studies” to show that their test products are valid and reliable. The problem is that independent, peer-reviewed research doesn’t back them up. The SAT and PSAT are shams. Colleges often use PSAT scores as a basis for sending solicitation letters to prospective students. However, as a former admissions officer noted, “The overwhelming majority of students receiving these mailings will not be admitted in the end.” Some say that the College Board, in essence, has turned the admissions process “into a profit-making opportunity.”


Advanced Placement may work well for some students, especially those who are already “college-bound to begin with” (Klopfenstein and Thomas, 2010). Indeed, there are “systematic differences in student motivation, academic preparation, family background and high-school quality account for much of the observed difference in college outcomes between AP and non-AP students” (Geiser, 2007). College Board-funded studies do not control well for these student characteristics (even the College Board concedes that “interest and motivation” are keys to “success in any course”). Klopfenstein and Thomas (2010) find that when these demographic characteristics are controlled for, the claims made for AP disappear.


And guess what? ACT, Inc. and the College Board were instrumental in developing the Common Core. Both organizations say they have “aligned” all of their products with it. Both are avid supporters of it. And yet, it’s wholly unnecessary. It was based on the silly idea that better test scores are necessary for economic competitiveness and prosperity, a notion perpetrated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wall street entities, and the Business Roundtable, among others.


Students, parents, teachers, and school leaders –– not to mention admissions officials, reporters, and politicians and tutors –– would do well to heed the research and to stop perpetuating the myths. Because the future of public education is at stake.