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On Feb. 11, the Illinois State Board of Education announced that it decided to administer the SAT to all Illinois eleventh-graders. ISBE said it selected the SAT, rather than the ACT, because the SAT was better aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards and is a better tool to measure what students are learning and to determine whether they are prepared for college and careers.

  On July 11, ISBE announced that the SAT exam, including a writing component, will replace the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment as the high school accountability exam in Illinois.

Because the SAT will be given to eleventh-graders at Evanston Township High School, the RoundTable has urged in several editorials that ETHS use SAT scores, aligned with doing B-level work the in the first year of college, as one metric in determining whether students are college ready. 

Significantly, the RoundTable is not urging that SAT scores be used in deciding whether or not to admit an individual student into college, but that they be used on an aggregated basis to determine whether ETHS is preparing its students to do at least B level work in college. Approximately 77% of the grades given in college are As and Bs, so doing B level work is performing above the 23rd percentile.

Predictive Validity of the SAT

One issue, and an important one, is whether SAT scores are biased, either by race or gender, in predicting how students will do in freshman year of college.

Three recent studies have analyzed whether SAT scores are biased in predicting how various subgroups will do in the first year of college: “The Validity of SAT Scores in Predicting First-Year Mathematics and English Courses” (2012), by Krista D. Mattern, et al, of the College Board; “Test of Slope and Intercept Bias in College Admissions: A Response to Aguinis, Culpepper, and Pierce 2010” (2013), by Mattern, et al, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology;  and “Differentiated Prediction Generalization in College Admission Testing” (2016),  by Herman Aguinis et al, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Each study found that, on average and across colleges, SAT scores slightly overpredict how black and Hispanic students will do in the first year of college, compared to white students, and that the scores thus contain a slight bias that favors black and Hispanic students. Each study also found that, on average and across colleges, SAT scores slightly underpredict how women will do in first year of college, compared to men, and that the scores thus contain a slight bias that disfavors women.

For example, the 2013 Mattern study found that the SAT, on average, overpredicted black students scores by 0.12 of a grade point in math, and underpredicted female scores by 0.11 of a grade point. In English courses, the SAT, on average, overpredicted black students scores by 0.14 of a grade point, and underpredicted female scores by 0.12 of a grade point.

In the 2016 study by Aguinis et al, the researchers took a step further and analyzed whether there is variability in the way the SAT and high school grade-point averages (GPAs) predict first-year college GPAs at different colleges. The study found that there was variation. The Aguinis study acknowledges, however, that the variability between predicted and actual scores at different colleges may be due to a variety of factors, including that different colleges may provide different levels of supports for minority students, such as tutoring, mentoring, and counseling; there may be institutional biases; the type and rigor of courses offered and taken may differ between colleges; and instructors’ grading idiosyncrasies and biases may impact grades and first-year college GPA.

While the Aguinis study is important for colleges who use the SAT and high school GPA in making admission decisions, its finding that variability exists between different colleges should not deter a high school from using the SAT to determine whether a high school, on average, is preparing its students to do B-level work in the first year of college. 

A high school is not preparing students to enter a particular college, but to be prepared in general for college. The SAT provides one way to do that.