"Strivers" Debate Highlights SAT Flaws

University Testing

The ongoing controversy over research by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to determine how to adjust SAT scores to make them better predictors of college performance for African American, Latino and Native American students who score significantly higher than others from similar backgrounds (so-called “Strivers”) obscures a key concession made by the test-makers in the course of the debate.


True to character, right-wing editorial writers and affirmative action opponents blasted the research project with polarizing slogans such as “race norming,” ignoring the fact that the effort might improve the SAT’s weak predictive validity. And, equally unsurprisingly once the debate became heated, College Board leaders summarily rejected any use of adjusted scores, even if they made their test more accurate.


But none of the rhetoric nor the political maneuvering erases the statement that kindled the debate. Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, ETS Vice President Anthony Carnevale is quoted as saying, a “combined score of 1000 on the SATs is not always a 1000 . . . When you look at a Striver who gets a 1000, you’re looking at someone who really performs at a 1200. This is a way of measuring not just where students are, but how far they’ve come.”


This is an extraordinary admission by a senior executive of the company that manufactures the test, which until very recently was promoted as “a common yardstick.” If the SAT is still a yardstick, it must be made of elastic or perhaps Silly Putty.


Given this clear statement that SAT scores mean different things for different applicants, colleges and universities which continue to (mis)use test results in rigid formulas are, in effect, actively supporting racial discrimination. The best alternative continues to be “test score optional” practices such as those at the University of Texas (see related story) and others described in FairTest’s report Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit: Enhancing Equity & Excellence in College Admissions by Deemphasizing SAT and ACT Results.”(See our publications catalog for ordering information.)