Academy of Science Committees Warn Against SAT/ACT Misuse

University Testing

Add two committees of the prestigious National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences to the growing list of experts warning against overreliance on test scores in college admissions.


In Myths and Tradeoffs: The Role of Tests in Undergraduate Admissions, the NRC’s Board on Testing and Assessment joins with the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel in finding that SAT and ACT scores “are estimates of student performance with substantial margins of error” not “”precise measures of ‘merit’ -- even academic merit” as advocates of test-based admissions imply.


“Consequently, the assumption that either test measures the criterion that should bear the greatest weight in admissions is flawed,” the report concludes. Instead the authors urge colleges to admit applicants based on “overarching intellectual and other goals.”


Though the language is cautious and academic, the warning against minimum test score requirements and similar practices is clear. For example, the authors recommend, “Specifically, institutions should avoid treating scores as more precise and accurate measures than they are and should not rely on them for fine distinctions among applicants.”


These conclusions should give further pause to colleges and scholarship agencies that use test scores as the sole criterion to determine eligibility for admissions or “merit” awards. The NRC report echoes a draft U.S. Department of Education Resource Guide demonstrating that schools which improperly use cut-off scores may violate federal civil rights laws (see Examiner, Summer 1999). An earlier NRC study sharply criticized the use of standardized tests to determine grade promotion, tracking or high school graduation (see Examiner, Fall 1998).


The complete 44-page NRC report is available online at The printed version may be ordered for $18 from National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418.