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To Standardized Testing: Really?


I saw a story (exploded by the Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy) about SAT scores and how they’ve changed since last year. To no one’s apparent surprise, there are still disparities in how students from different races, ethnic backgrounds, economic backgrounds, and genders perform. Some highlights related to this blog, taken directly from the story here:

‘Average scores dropped 5 points for females and 2 points for males. While females represent more than half (53.5%) of test takers, their total average score (1496) is 27 points below that of males (1523).’

‘ “The SAT directly reflects what students have learned in school and how they use that knowledge,” said senior vice president Laurence Bunin. “That’s why the latest research continues to validate that the SAT, when combined with high school grades, is the best predictor of college success.” ‘

To be fair, there are two reasons I shouldn’t be incensed that Bunin is insinuating women won’t succeed as well as men in college. First, the other predictor, grades, is not taken into account in the above. Second, he claims the SAT is the BEST predictor – but not necessarily a GOOD predictor.

I would argue that SAT performance and, dare I say, GRE performance are VERY weakly correlated, if at all, with actual success in college or grad school, respectively. Ironically, I’m supposed to be working now, so I won’t go to look for studies on the subject at the moment – but related comments are welcome.

Also, maybe if the statistics related in the paper weren’t called out on the front of the exam, the differences would close.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/26/2009 6:21 pm

    The chair of my undergraduate department once related a funny story at a workshop for students applying to graduate school. He said that the department wanted to see if Physics GRE scores were related to success in grad school, so they plotted their graduate students scores versus their graduate GPA after 3 years of graduate school, the result: “It looked like a scatter plot, absolutely no correlation.” He just thought that some students studied and some didn’t know they were supposed to.

    One factor that might lead to a drop in female SAT scores is high schools pushing more girls to take the test.

  2. Julia permalink*
    08/25/2009 8:06 pm

    Oddly enough, I heard another story about standardized tests just today on NPR because the founder of Kaplan recently passed away. Apparently he was basically the first person to propose that you can *study* for a standardized test and hoped that the test would be an equalizer for people who would normally be discriminated against in admission. However, I don’t see how SAT courses are much of an equalizer if only certain people can afford them!

    (I checked out the test prep software from the public library for free… for fun… when I was in like middle school… I think I might have been weird.)

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