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Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: Response to SAT-optional proponents: Listen to the data

By
Thursday, March 4, 2021

To the Editor:

Concerns about equity in the college admissions process are always well-founded and necessary. However, a recent op-ed by Zoë Fuad ’23 calling for Brown to become standardized test-optional is misguided. It fails to acknowledge that well-intentioned efforts to exclude the SAT or ACT ignore half a century of consistent evidence that these exams have substantial predictive power in a vague and subjective college admissions process.

Fuad’s principal argument — that the SAT is largely just an evaluation of socioeconomic status and therefore a source of inequity in the college admissions process — has repeatedly been debunked. Certainly, it is undeniable that socioeconomic status has some degree of predictive power on test outcomes. But proponents of eliminating the SAT rarely acknowledge that the SAT is a reliable predictor of academic ability and the critical thinking skills required to succeed in higher education. When added to models solely evaluating the effect of high school GPA on college GPA, the SAT meaningfully boosts models’ predictive power, even after controlling for socioeconomic status. Interestingly, SAT scores have predictive power even beyond first-year college GPA and retention rates. Among young adolescents, of those scoring in the top 0.1 percent of all test-takers relative to those scoring in the top 1 percent, the higher scorers had a much higher likelihood of obtaining a doctorate (especially STEM doctorates), a peer-reviewed publication (especially STEM publications), a patent, a 95th-percentile income and tenure at a top 50 university in a STEM field. Analyses of graduate-level exams, like the MCAT, GRE or LSAT, have added further evidence that considering standardized tests alongside undergraduate GPAs provides a more accurate depiction of not only past academic attainment but also capacity for further growth and success. 

Disparities between Asian-American and white students and Black and Hispanic students are undeniably real. But by fixating on the SAT, Fuad ignores the underlying sources of these differences, which stem from inequities and insufficiencies in early education. Evidence suggests that policies such as expanding the availability of charter schools and reducing the influence of local property taxes on school funding could ameliorate these inequities much more effectively. Brown already uses a holistic admissions system to account for these factors, although the University could still do much more to recruit a student body that is more diverse — racially, geographically, socioeconomically and politically.

The imperfections of the SAT should be no reason to ax it, given the useful information it has consistently provided colleges for decades. In light of this overwhelming evidence indicating the exam’s helpfulness as an index of both attainment and aptitude, eliminating the SAT would be a colossal mistake.

Alexander Pralea ’24 can be reached at alexander_pralea@brown.edu. Please send responses to this letter to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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  1. SAT Optional says:

    This response fails to acknowledge the key aspect of Fuad’s proposal. Under the proposed policy, the SAT would not be eliminated, merely made a choice rather than a requirement. Those who feel that the SAT accurately reflects their abilities will still have the option to submit their scores, but those who feel that the SAT is an inaccurate portrayal of their skills will be given other opportunities to present themselves. This response even that “socioeconomic status has some degree of predictive power on test outcomes,” yet still argues for standardized testing to remain a requirement despite acknowledging this inequity. Additionally, the reasoning used is questionable. While those sources do find a correlation between high SAT scores and later achievements such as doctorate degrees and patents, these achievements could just as easily be because of the SAT rather than predicted by it. With the current system, students with high SAT scores are more likely to gain entrance into reputable universities or other program with high quality education that open doors after graduation and allow for students to attain such successes. This correlation between high SAT scores and later achievements could just as easily indicate that the opportunities afforded by the SAT, not the SAT itself, are predictors of future success.

  2. Gabriel Monteiro da Silva says:

    The mere fact that you have to pay a private company with conflicting interests to get a chance to do the SATs should be enough for them to be banned forever from any system that aspires to be meritocratic.

    If you want to keep the SATs, campaign for them to be free like in most countries in the world, after that is achieved we can talk about their presumed validity as measuring tools.

  3. SAT skeptic says:

    Oh, gee a white male hailing straight from a private high school in New England thinks that standard tests are good predictors of academic merit? Surely no one has heard that before!

    $15K tuition and no one took the time to teach you that correlation is not the same as causal nexus? Do you also believe that there is overwhelming evidence that cancer causes cigarettes?

    • I mean this is just a needless personal attack followed by nasty condescension. I largely agree with what I can tell your viewpoint is, but really — please model some form of decent exchange.

      And to be clear, I’m not the author, nor do I know him.

    • people in glass houses... says:

      Zoe Fuad who wrote the original SAT optional op-ed went to UWCSEA, a private school in Singapore which costs $35,000+ a year…..

      35K a year in tuition and no one taught her that resorting to this kind of demographic retort only makes her own argument seem unstable.

    • An argument based solely on identity is not needed — this is coming from a POC. If you want to criticize his argument, do so on the merit of his claims and not his arbitrary skin color.

  4. This is spot on. Some type of standardized test is required, don’t know if SAT is the one. Otherwise you are comparing apples to oranges and will be difficult to compare students without a national standard, especially in these times of massive grade inflation. A standardized test is a great equalizer. Everything is offered free and on line. You do not need to pay a tutor. I do agree it should be offered free, and everyone should only take it once or twice, like in Europe. The other option would be to go back and have each college offer their own type of admissions exam the way some high schools do, or have a Ivy League admissions test offered once a year for free that the eight schools would use.

  5. I think the author is choosing to fundamentally misrepresent the proposal. They are advocating for a test-optional policy, not a get rid of the SAT policy.

    • That is basically the same thing. Only very top students will submit scores. 90% of students won’t.

      • And why is that a bad thing?

        • What’s the point of increasing the applicant pool when the admission officers will still be selecting from the pool of competitive SAT submitters? Just look at other institutions that have gone test-optional pre-covid: UChicago, Wesleyan University, and George Washington University. For the university, it’s a win-win situation — you increase the applicant pool, while simultaneously getting positive PR. The fundamental question to ask, however, is that whether or not non-test submitters are getting in at similar rates as test-submitters. And, whether or not, the admissions process and not the submission process is actually test-optional behind closed doors.

          • I served in the admissions committee for my program, which has gone GRE-optional, and we were expressly instructed to ignore scores unless they were the tiebreaker between two equally promising candidates – which did not happen once over the entire process.

            I don’t see why the same wouldn’t be done in undergrad admissions.

  6. The SAT is far from a perfect test. Lots of people can get extra time for the test with a doctor’s note claiming they need that time and that skews scores. Sometimes people take Ritalin to help them focus and this enhances their one time performance. Other people have access to test-prep or ‘drilling schools’ that help them enhance their performance on the test.

    Not everyone has this kind of help. So the test is not inherently fair.

    Let people submit scores if they want. They should not be mandatory.

  7. Check your sources. They’re almost all written by the college board. says:

    Students for Educational Equity (the org behind the test optional movement) responded to this letter. See it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CMPgsA0H4CI/?igshid=vs6165tpez84

    “Among the chief concerns are:
    – Most of the sources cited are either written, subsidized, or rely on evidence by the the College Board (the corporation responsible for the SATs) !!
    – Mischaracterizes our movement, which is for test-OPTIONAL, not test-blind, policies
    – Falsely implies that reforming the college admission process is in conflict with improving our high schools. It should be noted that SEE has initiatives advocating for both.”

  8. Agreed. This is not to say that there aren’t any flaws in the admissions process, but making it more subjective through the elimination of standardized testing seems counterintuitive to me at least. Not to mention, the author did not even touch on how other institutions such as UChicago have gone test-optional — not out of the good of their hearts — but rather as a means of gaming the university-ranking system to increase their applications and decrease their acceptance rate.

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