Questions for Test Proponents About "New" University Admissions Exams

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE THAT A NEW OR REVISED EXAM WILL PREDICT COLLEGE GRADES MORE ACCURATELY THAN CURRENT TESTS DO? The manufacturers of both the SAT and ACT admit that a student’s high school grades provide better forecasts of undergraduate performance than their tests do. How will changing the format or contents of an entrance exam improve its “predictive validity”? Can test proponents provide independent data to back up their claims?

WILL CHANGING THE TESTS LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD FOR STUDENTS FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS? Test-makers recognize that their current products systematically under-estimate the academic potential of young women, students whose first language is not English, and applicants over 25. Is there any evidence that proposed changes in the SAT and ACT -or any newly designed test – will not share similar flaws?

IS THERE A REALISTIC PLAN FOR SCORING AN ESSAY PORTION OF A COLLEGE ADMISSIONS EXAM IN A MANNER THAT IS FAIR, ACCURATE AND TIMELY? A proposed SAT-I essay section was scrapped in the early 1990’s in part because of potentially severe logistical problems in grading it. More than two million SAT exams and 1.5 million ACT exams are administered each year across the nation. Does the testing industry plan to rely on experimental, computer-based scoring systems to cope with the sheer volume? How will test-makers prevent the emphasis on a high-stakes essay written under time pressure from adding to bias against students whose first language is not English?

HOW WILL A NEW OR REVISED TEST BE ANY LESS “COACHABLE” THAN CURRENT EXAMS? Test-makers have recently backed off from previous claims that their exams are not “coachable,” and now sell their own test preparation materials. Test preparation companies expect a boom in business from a revised SAT/ACT or a new, California-only exam, since they know that any major change in the admissions process feeds student anxiety and leads to more enrollees. What is to prevent applicants from upper income families, who can afford the $750+ the more effective coaching courses charge, from gaining an extra edge in the admissions process?

WHY SHOULD ANYONE EXPECT THAT A DIFFERENT TEST WILL REDUCE THE “DISTORTION” OF SCHOOL CURRICULUM? There’s an old adage in the measurement profession: “What is tested becomes what is taught!” No matter how exam requirements are altered, there will be strong pressure on teachers to drill their students on the narrow subject matter and formats included in the current admissions exams.

HOW MUCH MORE WILL TEST REQUIREMENT REVISIONS COST STUDENTS IN BOTH TIME AND MONEY? Exam manufacturing firms have not revealed the price of proposed changes or new test designs. Families often spend hundreds of dollars on the SAT/ACT because of the fees test-makers charge for score reporting, late registration, and the like. How will the tests’ manufacturers prevent exam costs from skyrocketing? Will students applying to both the University of California and schools in other states have to spend extra time and money taking two different sets of admissions exams?

WHY SHOULD THE UNIVERSITYOF CALIFORNIA — OR, INDEED, ANY COLLEGE — REQUIRE AN ENTRANCE EXAM? Nearly 400 bachelor degree-granting institutions nationwide do not consider any standardized test scores before making admissions offers to substantial portions of their entering classes. They recognize that there is ample information in an applicant’s file to make superior admissions decisions without the distortions caused by test score requirements. The “test-score optional” list now includes some of the most selective colleges in the nation, such as Bates, Bowdoin, and Mount Holyoke. The University of Texas at Austin, which admits more than half its freshmen on the basis of class rank with no consideration of test scores, has found this policy has improved student academic quality.