Annual Admissions Test Score Folly

University Testing

The late summer release of average ACT and SAT scores for high school graduates in the class of 2001 produced the annual spate of news reports and political pronouncements trying to glean the status of U.S. education from test results. The exercise is inherently fruitless: these exams are fundamentally flawed as college admissions tools, let alone as measures of educational quality.

As dozens of independent studies have demonstrated, both the ACT and SAT have long-standing problems of bias, inaccuracy, coachability, and misuse, such as:

• Test scores are directly related to family income; the richer students’ parents are, the higher are their average scores;
• The tests are at best only a weak predictor of first year college grades. Despite differences in high school quality and apparent “grade inflation,” a student’s high school performance remains a better forecasting tool than the ACT or SAT;
• The exams do a particularly poor job of predicting college performance for females - who earn higher grades than males, despite lower test scores - and students whose first language isn’t English, who are disadvantaged by the test’s format;
• Scores can be boosted through well-designed test preparation programs, some of which are sold by the exams’ manufacturers - despite their claims that coaching does not work; and
• ACT and SAT results are misused through minimum score requirements for admissions and college scholarships, practices that violate the test-makers’ own guidelines for proper use.

The annual focus on small changes in ACT and SAT averages deflects attention from more important questions about the role of the tests in college admissions. The real story should be why any college continues to require scores from any exam. The success of the nearly 400 undergraduate schools which do not require substantial numbers of their applicants to submit results from either test before admissions decisions are made demonstrates that such tests are simply not necessary.

Recently updated fact sheets describing the ACT and the SAT, a new publication on SAT validity, and a listing of 388 bachelor-degree granting schools that do not require test scores from substantial numbers of their applicants, are available on-line at or may be obtained by sending a stamped, self-addressed business-sized envelope to FairTest, 15 Court Square, Suite 820, Boston, MA 02108.