Speakers Debate Fairness of SAT Examination

Over 40 Harvard students listened to two speakers discuss the fairness of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and its overall weight upon college admissions at an event sponsored by the Institute of Politics last night in Boylston Hall.

Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director for the Fairtest organization, stated Fairtest's position that the SAT should be optional for college-bound seniors.

"To require the admissions testing game is a distortion of the educational process--it reinforces societal discrimination," Schaeffer said. "[Placing] importance on test scores deters otherwise qualified applicants from applying to colleges."

According to Schaeffer, the problem of standardized testing fairness has recently had a controversial place in college admissions. On Monday, federal judges in Philadelphia ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) minimum SAT requirement was racially biased and not educationally related.

"SAT minimum requirements exclude African-American athletes, low-income kids and women in general," Schaeffer said.


Schaeffer offered statistics about SAT gender fairness. He said that women, who make higher grades in high schools, on average score 42 points lower on the SAT.

SAT preparatory courses like the Princeton Review and Kaplan are also give wealthier students an unfair advantage, according to Schaeffer. Preparatory courses like these are "steroids to boost test scores," he said.

He offered positive feedback from colleges who do not require the SAT and said that these schools report that they like the students better who are chosen without test scores.

"These students spend their weekends reading Shakespeare or at soup kitchens, not at Princeton Review or Kaplan," Schaeffer said.

However, Charles W. Hughes '92, a Harvard admissions officer who also spoke at the event, did try to dispel the perception that preparatory course give students a significant advantage.

"According to a study written about by [Associate Director of Admissions] Dean K. Whitla, Harvard students show an increase of only 11 points on their verbal scores and 16 points on their math scores after taking preparatory courses," Hughes said.

He added that courses offer what conscientious students would study on their own.

"Think about what the courses teach," he said. "Vocabulary, math skills--it's learning."

Hughes gave a more positive spin to Harvard's requirement of SAT scores.

"Harvard sees two edges that make testing have some merit," Hughes said. "One is that there is a correlation between very high SAT scores and one's likelihood for getting a magna or summa degree, and the other is that there is some evidence that the SAT is an indicator for how well students will do in their four years here."

According to Hughes, the SAT is useful in the admissions office's attempt to quantify the over 18,000 high school students who apply to Harvard every year. Grade point averages, because of grade inflation, are not always helpful tools, Hughes added. He said that many high schools do not even release class rank anymore.

"High schools are telling us less," Hughes said. "What else do we have to look at?"

But he explained that at Harvard, other factors are more heavily weighted than test scores.

"Test scores are a very small factor in admissions," Hughes said. "The SAT is no panacea for making college admissions decisions."