Luba A 30-point boost in math and critical-reading scores on the SAT reasoning test is statistically meaningless yet could make or break a student's chances of admission at "a substantial minority" of colleges, a research paper says
And the more selective the college, the more that bump pays off, it finds.
The study, based on a survey of 246 college admission officials nationwide and being released today by the non-profit National Association for College Admission Counseling, was commissioned to explore the effect of test preparation for college admission exams.
But the report also raised concerns about whether some colleges use test scores inappropriately.
Various independent studies estimate that coaching can improve a test-taker's math and reading scores by 30 points on average — a bump so small on the 1600-point SAT sections that the College Board, which owns the test, says it could be attributed to measurement error.
Yet in the new study, 20% to 40% of officials at 130 colleges that consider the SAT in admissions said a 20-point math increase or a 10-point reading increase would "significantly improve a student's chances of admissions" if all other factors in a student's application were the same.
"If marginal college admission decisions are made on the basis of very small differences in test scores, a small coaching effect might be practically significant," says author Derek Briggs of the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Briggs says he was "pretty stunned" by the findings, given that the College Board and makers of the ACT entrance exam caution against using scores as a sole criterion for high-stakes decisions such as admissions and scholarships. (He did not probe as deeply into ACT data but he says "it is very likely" findings would be similar.) The association for admissions professionals similarly cautions against such practices.
The association said in a statement that the misuse Briggs found is a problem in "a small number of cases." But it added, "These realities are likely to complicate the decisions of students and families trying to determine how best to allocate (time and money) related to test preparation."
Association CEO Joyce Smith said the organization plans to "initiate a new round of communications and training" for member colleges and universities.
William Fitzsimmons, dean of admission and financial aid at Harvard University and chairman of a commission created by the association that last September urged research on the subject, says most schools probably use the test appropriately, but "misuse of test scores is a major public policy issue."
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Article by Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY