CONTRIBUTOR: Swift, Judith [faculty advisor, Department of Communication Studies] DATE: 2006 SUBJECT: Higher education SUBJECT: Education policy FORMAT: Microsoft Word document, 395,776 bytes 2006 URI Senior Honors Project


SAT; college admission; scholastic aptitude test; Educational Testing Services; ETS


Last summer I began interning at the Provost’s office at URI. Through this experience, I discovered just how critical the admission process is to the University, since the future of a university lies with its student body, both from the perspective of its mission and revenue. Admitting students on a fair and equal basis can be extremely difficult. I became interested in the SAT Reasoning Test (SAT) because it is a highly criticized aspect of the admission process. The SAT Reasoning test was formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test, but the acronym holds no formal meaning now. The SAT was introduced to colleges after being used as IQ tests for the military in the 1920’s. After the GI Bill was introduced in 1944, colleges and universities embraced the use of the SAT in order to limit the number of college students. Harvard University President James Conant believed only the elite deserved to attend college and encouraged the SAT as a way to keep people in their socioeconomic place. It was an easy way for colleges to rank students, and soon enough, colleges were also ranked by their students’ average SAT scores. I have come to believe that the admission process has grown to rely too heavily on the SAT both at the University of Rhode Island and throughout the majority of colleges and universities in the country. This test (and to some degree the ACT) are also a major part of the criteria for many merit scholarships. There are various problems with the SAT. One of the most crucial problems is portrayed by national SAT averages which indicate that socioeconomic factors affect the scores. The test structure favors middle and upper-class students, and this bias is reflected by members of these social strata receiving higher SAT scores than the lower class students. The test is owned by a non-profit organization, Educational Testing Services (ETS), which, according to its Internal Revenue Service 990 tax form for 2004, earned over $547 million from higher education program services. The current CEO of ETS, Kurt Landgraf, is also trying to capture the K-12 market since the No Child Left Behind Act has stressed the importance of standardized testing. In the past few months, the College Board, a not-for-profit membership association and partner with ETS, has made colossal mistakes in the grading of SAT tests, which has affected thousands of college-bound seniors across the country in a string of highly publicized errors. While the errors may be a one-time event, they helped to underscore how strongly the SAT score can impact a student and his or her educational opportunities. There are alternatives to using the SAT. Some public and private universities are beginning to make the SAT optional. A pioneer in this trend is Bates College, which implemented an SAT-optional policy in 1984. Public universities like the California public system and the Texas public system have admitted students in the top percent of their class, regardless of their SAT scores. Various other alternatives are used that evaluate the student in a more holistic manner. Overturning the dominance of the SAT can be done, and the University of Rhode Island needs to evaluate its own admission process to see if the SAT is indeed of value. This paper addresses the critical problems affiliated with the SAT which must be addressed in order for our higher education system to have fair and equal opportunity access.