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Why ACT/SAT testing Is a Whole New Ballgame

Recently I received this comment from a superintendent in response to a post on LinkedIn:

“I’d like to eliminate ACT and SAT tests altogether. They are generally a waste of time, they favor rich students, and they don’t tell us as much about a student’s college readiness as high school GPA, which is a rigorous multiple measure derived over years of work in multiple settings with multiple teachers. The world is evolving on this issue, just not quickly enough. In education we too often cling to old constructs even when there is ample evidence that better methods exist. One of the more positive things I’ve heard recently is that our local Community College, Oakton, is considering placement into credit-bearing courses for student with a 2.75 or higher high school GPA because their empirical evidence finds that a better predictor than anything else. They are not alone. We just have to have the courage to evolve past the military industrial test complex driven by test companies and way too many politicians who conflate test score with accountability.”

This was my response:

One reason rich students benefit from college admissions testing is that they have the money to pay for pricey test prep courses.  Ours is intended for all students, not just the affluent.  High schools and families purchase a one-year JBP license so that all students have access to affordable, entertaining, proven test preparation.

As a country, we do a poor job turning lower income students into college graduates. Students born into the top economic quartile have an 80% likelihood that they’ll become a two- or four-year college graduate, while those born into the bottom economic quartile have only a 10% likelihood of becoming a two- or four-year college graduate. The ACT and SAT can contribute to this shameful gap because they can be intimidating and expensive (though free and reduced lunch students can get these fees waived).  JBP’s mission is to help schools and families turn students into two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt.  We want all students to have this goal and to make the test score an asset on the application, regardless of income. Further, with 50% of two-year college students taking remedial classes and more than 15% of four-year college students taking them, an ACT or SAT score can telegraph to a college that remediation is unnecessary, dramatically increasing the likelihood of graduation, especially with minimal debt.

Test scores matter because they are an attempt to add more information to the application, information that complements the applicant’s GPA and other attributes.  Why might this complementary information be helpful?  One reason is grade inflation.  And I’m not blaming educators for grade inflation.  I’m blaming the parents who put so much pressure on educators to give higher grades even when the student is undeserving, a disservice to the student and the integrity of grades themselves.  Colleges and scholarship committees that have the luxury of rejecting applicants may not know fully what a 3.5 gpa or a 4.0 gpa suggests.  An ACT or SAT score gives them a better idea.

But I understand your position.  The pendulum has swung way too far.  We over-test our students, draining energy from the classroom and our teachers.  My daughter’s dynamic 3rd grade teacher retired early, telling me, “I don’t get to teach anymore.” However, I hope you’ll consider the ACT and SAT as slightly different animals from the serial tests that appear before our K-12 students annually, tests that they have to prepare for excessively during precious instruction time and that put excessive pressure on educators, regardless of their merit.  The ACT and SAT provide complementary information to admissions and scholarship committees, especially when they’re unable to accept or reward all applicants.

John Baylor is a father, husband, author, Stanford grad, broadcaster, and owner of John Baylor Prep. The mission of JBP is to help families and schools create two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. You can listen to the John Baylor Prep Show by subscribing on iTunes or by going to johnbaylorprepshow.com. The show also runs on Nebraska stations KHUB (1340 AM) in Fremont, KNCY (1600 AM) in Nebraska City, KLIN (1400 AM)in Lincoln. Check listing for days and times.

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