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Is the SAT Educationally and Socially Valid?

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Originally posted on April 22, 2014.

Critics have used the SAT test redesign to denounce the SAT and aptitude testing.  The multiple choice SAT has “never been a good predictor of academic achievement,” Bard College president Leon Botstein argued in Time. Better, to “look at the complex portrait” of college applicants’ lives, including “what their schools are like.” said Colby College English professor Jennifer Finney Boylan in a New York Times essay. The SAT only measures “those skills … necessary for the SATs,” surmised New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert. 

In a new Slate essay, David Hambrick and Christopher Chabris, distinguished experimental psychologists at Michigan State University and Union College, rebut such assertions.  Massive data, they argue, show that

•    SAT scores do predict first-year GPA, whole-college GPA, and graduation likelihood, with the best prediction coming from a combination of both high school grades and aptitude scores.
•    SAT scores of 13-year-old predict future advanced degrees and income, much as kindred and strongly-related IQ scores predict job training and vocational success.
•    In one famous nationwide sample, the IQ scores of Scottish 11-year-olds predicted their later-life longevity, even after adjusting for socioeconomic status.
•    Although SAT scores are slightly higher among students from high income families, the SAT also provides an opportunity for students from nonelite public school to display their potential—rather than to be judged by “what their schools are like.”  Thus SAT scores, when compared with assessments influenced by income-related school quality, have a social levelling effect. 
•    Test preparation courses often taken by higher income prep school students “don’t change SAT scores much.”

Ergo, say Hambrick and Chabris, while other traits such as grit, social skill, conscientiousness, and creativity matter, too, “the idea that standardized tests and ‘general intelligence’ are meaningless is wishful thinking.”

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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).