Study: SAT entrance tests good predictor of grades, graduation rate


Saturday, April 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



At a time when the SAT college admission tests are under fire, new research says the scores are good forecasters of grades throughout college, and whether students stay around to graduate.

The findings go well beyond the test company's assertion that scores predict grades in freshman year.

Critics of the SAT as an admissions tool raised questions Friday about the source of the research.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, paid about $250,000 for the three-year study by University of Minnesota graduate students. The College Board is a non-profit membership organization which also sells test-preparation materials.

``It does cast some suspicion, and I think it will for a lot of people,'' said Jane Brown, vice president for enrollment at Mount Holyoke College, which recently stopped requiring the SAT.

Wayne Camara, head of research at the College Board, brushed aside such criticism. The researchers were looking at existing findings, involving more than 1 million students, he said.

Camara encouraged anyone to examine the study once it's published.

Using a new technique called meta-analysis and the largest for the SAT ever undertaken, the study culled its results from more than 1,700 previous studies.

The meta-analysis is expected to be finished at the end of the year, when it will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals. The authors presented their results earlier this month at a professional meeting in Seattle and planned to again Saturday at a conference in San Diego.

The research affirmed the SAT as a good predictor of grades the first year of college, in particular the first semester. But it was also effective in forecasting a grade-point average through the fourth year.

It was also effective, if weaker, in forecasting study habits, whether students stayed enrolled at the school and graduated in four or five years.

``College admissions officers do have to weigh what they're looking for in their student body,'' said Sarah Hezlett, the study's lead author and a doctoral student at the Twin Cities campus.

But, she said, ``if they are concerned about academic performance, and they're concerned about their graduation rate, failing to look at the SAT would result in throwing away information that will result in people getting a high GPA and whether or not they get their degree.''

The various studies ranged from the 1940s to 1999. The vast majority was College Board studies correlating SAT scores with first-year results. The rest were independent, published and unpublished studies linking SAT scores to other outcomes.

Last year Mount Holyoke stopped requiring SAT scores, as have some 380 four-year institutions. The new findings are unlikely to change that policy, said Brown, enrollment chief at the women's college in South Hadley, Mass.

SAT scores were never more than 10 percent of an application, she said. Prospective students spend more time, money and worry than the scores warrant, Brown said. There's also a risk of overlooking disadvantaged but promising students with lower scores.

``We knew that we had other ways of assessing students that were equally, if not more, predictive of success at Mount Holyoke,'' Brown said. ``The SAT is a very narrow measure of student ability. Frankly, I think GPA is a very narrow predictor. I'd rather look at civic engagement. What are the measures of success from a societal point of view?''

The test was devised in the 1920s to give colleges a standard gauge of ability. About 2 million high school students take the SAT I and 1.8 million the rival ACT.

Combined with grades and other measures, SAT scores are designed to forecast a prospective student's likely success freshman year.

Critics regularly attack the tests as unfair, mainly because white men tend to do better than most other groups. Many reasons are offered _ family income and education, school quality, courses taken, access to tutors and test-prep courses.

Earlier this year, University of California President Richard Atkinson, a testing expert, called for dropping the SAT I, proposing instead the SAT II subject tests of what students learned.

``Certainly the timing is interesting,'' said Michael Reese, University of California system spokesman, when told of the research findings. ``I would hope that those who give credence to this research make an appropriate note of the College Board's involvement.''

The University of California system reviewed 50,000 of its own students and found high school grades and SAT II subject tests better than the SAT I at predicting academic performance.

For that reason, Atkinson is asking the faculty and Board of Regents to shift more to high school grades and standardized tests linked to curriculum and school subjects.