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

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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