PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 210 | The New York Times Said What?

NYT Report: Dropping SAT scores actually hurts diversity on college campuses

In today's episode, I revisit a topic I have discussed many times: the importance, relevance, and future of the SAT.

Lo and behold, a blockbuster article recently came out in the New York Times which addressed this issue in a surprising fashion:

The Misguided War on the SAT - Colleges have fled standardized tests, on the theory that they hurt diversity. That's not what the research shows.

If you're interested in what this article said and how it might impact you and your child, please give this episode a listen.

Show Transcript:

Hello, friends, and welcome back to the Prep podcast. This week I want to discuss a topic that I've covered before, and the reason I'm revisiting this topic is because the reality of the situation and all of its repercussions has finally hit the mainstream in a big and very surprising way by way of the New York Times, of all places.

And the article almost broke the Internet. The topic, you guessed it, standardized testing and the actual effects of SAT and ACT test optional policies. After three years of experimentation. I highly recommend that you check out the article if you haven't already. Its title is The Misguided War on the S.A.T.. Subtitled Colleges have fled standardized tests on the theory that they hurt diversity.

That's not what the research shows. Now, I don't plan on recapitulating everything that the author, David Leonhardt, lays out in this quite lengthy piece. But I do want to give you the Reader's Digest version and more importantly, suggest what this may mean for your child and you who have to deal with all this turmoil. And given how left leaning politically The New York Times has always been.

I could hardly believe what I was reading. I actually thought it was a spoof. Was it April Fool's Day? Had I accidentally clicked over to a Babylon B satirical piece? But lo and behold, it turned out to be a real article. Let's go back in time so that we're all on the same page. When COVID hit in 2020 and schools were shutting down across the country.

There was a window of time where the SAT and act became next to impossible to take. Testing centers often in high schools, were closed and there was no one to administer the tests. Yes, test availability varied somewhat by state quite a bit sometimes, but suffice it to say there were huge gaps in opportunities to physically take these tests.

This is when most colleges and universities adopted a test optional policy for the SAT and the ACT. Some even moved to a test blind policy like California, which meant you were not even allowed to submit an SAT score, even if you had one, even if you scored a perfect 1600. They didn't want to see it. They refused to consider your performance on such tests.

Now, just to be clear, for those of you joining the party, only in the last few years before COVID, the S.A.T. and the ACT were required at nearly all colleges and universities. Yes, there was a small and growing minority of schools that were becoming test optional. But the vast, vast, vast, vast majority of schools, it was test required.

So let's get back to COVID times. At that time, since not every student had the same opportunity to take one of these tests, it seemed unfair to make it or leave it as a strict requirement for admissions as it had been for decades, because that would preclude presumably hundreds of thousands of students from applying to colleges where it was a requirement.

So they made submission of an SAT or ACT score optional. If you were able to take a test and wanted to submit your score, have at it. If you didn't take a test for any reason at all, maybe there were no open testing centers. You didn't feel like it. It wasn't convenient. No harm, no foul. The colleges would, quote unquote, not hold it against you.

So they said and so ushered in the era of test optional policies and with very few exceptions. This test optional policy has remained in place and by most accounts will likely remain the new standard indefinitely. There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, the military service academies never dropped the requirement and will never drop the requirement and Mitty famously reinstated the requirement for an SAT or act almost immediately following the poor performance of many students who were admitted without submitting these scores.

They either failed out or transferred schools due to their lack of preparation for the rigors of that type of academic. Why, you might ask, is the test optional policy not reverting back to a test required policy that was in place for several decades with millions of data points? Now that the pandemic is long gone, that's a fair question on a lot of people's minds, including the writer of this article.

The answer is that test optional policies continue to remain in place today for a wholly different reason. Remember, the original reason for the test optional policy was because hundreds of thousands of students physically could not find a testing center to take the test. As eager as they may have been to do so, they just couldn't find an open test center.

We had widespread lockdowns across the country. Today, obviously, that's not the case. COVID is long gone. Testing centers are open. The SAT and ACT have been available in nearly every high school for years now, just like it used to be. So why not bring back the requirement? As you have no doubt heard over the last few decades, higher education, that is colleges and universities has made diversity, equity and inclusion.

Also known as DEI, one of the top priorities, if not the top priority on their campuses. My guess is that we've all heard about the principle of DEI, especially since President Biden announced on day one of his administration three years ago that equity was going to be the primary driver of all of the administration's decisions in the context of higher education.

D-I means that demonstrations of merit of which an SAT score would be won, are no longer primary drivers of who should be admitted to college, and that other factors race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, among others, should be the primary drivers of creating a quote unquote, diverse campus. In other words, if a particular applicant checks a demographic box that will, one, help a college create what they deem a diverse campus, and to an applicant who will advance the cause of equity for a once discriminated against demographic.

That it shouldn't matter if they have a competitive SAT or ACT score or not. That applicant should instead be admitted because of their race, because of their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, or some other prized demographic trait. This practice is also known as affirmative action, where one particular group is given preference over another group, irrespective of their relative merits, in order to achieve equity and outcome.

In other words, in the very challenging admissions process, colleges and universities are no longer solving for excellence. They're solving for equity. In fact, this is the exact reason why Harvard and the University of North Carolina were sued and why the Supreme Court recently overturned the practice of affirmative action. This practice was deemed uncontested educational. Okay, so that's the background.

Most of you are probably very familiar with all of this, but I thought I'd do a quick review of how we got to where we are today. Now, when it comes to the New York Times article, David Leonhardt spells out in great detail and with a lot of data and graphs and statistics, how this test optional experiment, if you will, has turned out.

And the short answer is not well, and I'll share a few thoughts that I had from the article and then get to what it means for students today. Observation Number one The author brings a lot of data to bear that shows that SAT and ACT scores are far more predictive of college success than is GPA. He lays out all the facts which are undeniable, and this is nothing new to those of us in the business.

What is new is that The New York Times is actually reporting this finding an applicant's GPA is an unreliable predictor of college success, period. Even when controlled for rigorous classes like Honors and IB in AP classes. Not to mention that since COVID 19 grade inflation is running rampant, it's built into the system. It's the new normal. We all know this.

It's not a dirty little secret anymore. Yesterday's coveted 4.0 GPA is today's ho hum 4.5 GPA. And because of this, it's exceedingly difficult for colleges to make judgments about any applicant's intellectual horsepower based on their GPA. There's too much variability, too many factors that obscure the actual value of GPA. S.A.T. and A.C.T. scores, however, are different. They demonstrate measurable intellectual strength of groups of students across the entire world.

And we have millions of data points to back this up going back decades. It's an objective measure, not based on the grading practices of any particular school district or teacher or cohort of teachers in any number of different locations. So ignoring these test scores makes no sense. If you actually care about how smart a student is, that's a big if and something we'll address a bit later.

My second observation. Making the test scores optional was extremely confusing. It doesn't help students at all. It may help the colleges feel better about themselves or signal their virtuous nature, but it harms the actual students. Should I take the test? Should I not? Should I submit my score or should I not? Should I study or should I not study?

Should I even bother applying or not? Should I even go to college or not? It's the worst of all worlds. At least California is not trying to hide the ball. You see schools or University of California schools, our flagship state schools, they straight up say the quiet part out loud. We don't care about your SAT and ACT scores.

We don't care how smart you are. We don't care how much you've prepared. We won't look at your scores. Even if you want us to come as you are. And if you help us meet our target diversity goals, we will admit you. Whether or not you can do the work, that's not our problem. This type of policy leaves students in a very precarious situation.

On so many levels, it's hard to even fathom. And by the way, as an aside, let's do a quick thought experiment. If this push into D-Ii ends up at its logical conclusion, where merit and excellence and scholarship are no longer prioritized, then who cares? Who goes to what colleges? Why obsess about it anymore? Who cares whether you get into Harvard or Yale?

What would be the point of going to these so-called elite or academically competitive schools if merit was not the reason you were admitted? Employers won't come knocking if they don't think the schools are producing competent graduates. This move, left to its own devices would flatten the whole higher educational system at the expense of excellence, and everyone coming out of college would be the same.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe that's the goal. On a positive note, that would be one way to get rid of the U.S. News and World Reports annual rankings of top colleges. Every college would be the same, cranking out mediocrity across the board with no way of sifting through the wheat and the chaff. And related to this thought experiment and something that came to mind as I was reading this article is the incredible amount of attention and I would say obsession.

Monthly, weekly. Almost daily with tracking the exact percentages and trend lines of certain minority students being admitted to the most elite colleges in the country. Maybe the world. Not all colleges. Only the most selective colleges. I'm talking only the top 5 to 10 colleges and universities. These are the statistics that everyone. And by everyone I mean the mainstream media care about and report on.

When Harvard and Yale and Princeton and MIT come out with their enrollment numbers and they detail the number of blacks and Latinos and first gen students and Pell Grant recipients in their recently admitted class pie charts, everyone immediately focuses on those students. Those numbers, those percentages, they compare them to last year's numbers. They wonder why these numbers aren't bigger.

And if something looks a bit awry or if the percentages of a prized demographic go down, God forbid, somebody better have a good answer or heads are going to roll. I have an idea. How about we put less focus, spend less time, produce fewer exposes, and write fewer social media posts? Analyzing the few hundred minority students who did or did not get into the top ten most elite colleges in the country and instead put more focus, put more energy, spend more time, produce more exposes and white papers, write more social media posts, write more policy directives about the dismal state of the K-through-12 educational system in the country, particularly in the inner cities, and why so many students can't do basic math. Their reading at below grade level. They struggle with basic life skills. Why the unending fixation on the few hundred spots at the top 50 to 10 colleges in the country? There's so much more work to do upstream of these outcomes, and I'll close with how, in my opinion, this has affected a lot of high school students today.

Given these policies and particularly the test optional SAT and ACT policy, but other policies as well, like the DUI policies we've touched on, students have been lulled into a sense of academic complacency that it may take decades to recover from if things don't turn around. And that's an optimistic case. The demotion and I would say demonization of the importance of the SAT and ACT has landed with today's teenagers.

They're no dummies. It has sent a terrible signal. Students just don't care about the SAT and act anymore. No matter how hard I. And we try to convince them otherwise. Not only because they've been told that the SAT doesn't matter. After all, if it's optional, it must not mean all that much. But because they now know that even if they do perform well and study and prepare like students used to do for the last few decades, it still won't matter.

So what's the point of studying? Teenagers are by nature, not exactly chomping at the bit to study for one of these tests anyway, because it's hard. But they used to grind because it mattered. People cared about how they performed. People respected merit and sought out those who were smart and capable from all walks of life. Why should teenagers grind today?

Studying for the S.A.T. or the A.C.T.? Why waste their time? Now, I don't agree with this fatalistic and convenient and lazy logic, and I try my best to give them a different perspective, which is this No matter who you are or where you're from or where you are aspiring to go to college, whether you're from the streets of Brooklyn, New York, or the hills of La Hoya, California, you should study for the S.A.T. or the act like your life depended on it.

Now, I'm not trying to be melodramatic here, but for some students, their life and their future prospects might depend on it. And that's the beauty of a meritocracy. You are rewarded for hard work, for discipline, for achievement, no matter your origin story, no matter where you started from. At least that used to be the case. And for the many other students whose life doesn't necessarily depend on their SAT score and SAT score that they studied for, that they prepared for, that they can be proud of no matter what it is.

Whether it's a 15, 90 or 1030 will still impact their lives in a positive way. It's time to get back to the SAT grind. Students have to pull themselves out of this current complacency that's sweeping through the schools. I know why it's happening. I wish it wasn't happening, and I implore you to rise above it and get back to work.

Muster the discipline to study for a standardized test. Either one SAT or A.C.T.. Learn how to set up a study schedule months ahead of time. Learn how to concentrate for hours at a time. Get familiar with the testing formats. Practice a few full length tests. I did not have to cajole students into doing this four years ago. I've been doing this for 11 years and I've never had to give these pep talks about why students should strive to do well on their SAT or A.C.T..

It was a given. It was in their blood. They knew they had to do it. It wasn't such a huge, big deal. Everybody used to do it. Now very few do. And that's a shame. And there will be some students who argue, Why should I study for the act or the act? I don't even want to go to one of those fancy schools.

And even if I did and scored, well, they don't care about those scores anyway. Why waste my time? I have Fortnite to play. Fair enough. I get it. It's not a bad argument. However, there is a strong case to be made to study for one of these tests anyway, even if the result doesn't translate into getting you into your dream school.

Even if it takes time away from Fortnite or TikTok or Netflix or YouTube, it will likely help you get into a better college than you would if you didn't study at all, which would be a plus. You would actually learn stuff along the way, which would be nice, and you will have the experience of buckling down and preparing for a long, high stakes, consequential test.

That is an experience that you should have as a teenager. Depending on where you go in life post-high school. You will likely have to take a standardized test of some kind. I've taken dozens of them since graduating from high school. I've taken military aptitude tests. Military officer tests. The gym at which is a graduate school test. A personal trainer.

Nationwide test. A civil service test. To become a firefighter. I've taken an EMT test to ride on an ambulance. A Series seven and Series 63. Test to work on Wall Street as an investment advisor. And the list goes on and on and on. I was better prepared for these tests because I put in time studying for the SAT as a high schooler.

It's a rite of passage. My older sister, who recently retired from the government, is reinventing herself by taking the extremely challenging four part CPA exam to become a certified public accountant. She put in 150 hours to study for just one of the four sections which she passed, by the way. She still has three sections to go, and she's doing this in her fifties, and it all started when she studied for her S.A.T. in high school, which helped her to go to Cornell as an undergraduate.

She laid the foundation. Take this opportunity to learn what it's like to dedicate yourself to studying for a test and do it. There's no downside, no matter where you end up. Yes, Even if you only plan on applying to U.S. schools which are test blind. I know. I get that. I still recommend going through the process of preparing and taking the SAT or the act.

And by the way, if you think you're only going to apply to U.S. schools, stand by. You want to keep your options open. It happens all the time. I'm only going to apply to U.S. schools. I don't have to take this test. And then they wind up wanting a take to apply to other schools at the last minute and they don't have a test result.

And if you need one more inducement to give the SAT a try, remember they recently watered it down to make it even easier. It's now digital. It's only 2 hours instead of 3 hours. You can use a calculator for all the math questions and the reading comprehension questions are broken down into three sentence passages. Instead of page and a half passages.

So you've got that going for you. If this apathy continues separating yourself from the crowd might actually get easier. Just do what we used to do in the old days. Grind for a few months. Studying for the SAT or act. And you'll be way ahead of your complacent peers. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in.

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