Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is Bill Fitzsimmons confused?

Today in the Harvard Crimson, an intriguing story about the future of the SAT in elite college admissions (emphasis mine):
The SAT Reasoning Test may one day be optional for Harvard applicants, according to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67.

The best predictor of college success is not the SAT, but rather tests that examine knowledge of a standardized curriculum, such as SAT subject tests, said Fitzsimmons, who over the past year led a commission of leading admissions officials that is recommending that colleges rely less on the SAT.

Fitzsimmons said that in the future Harvard may give students the option of taking five or more SAT Subject Tests in lieu of the SAT Reasoning Test or its frequent alternative, the ACT.
Over the past couple decades, most validity studies produced the same result: the SAT II subject tests were more predictive than the ordinary SAT. This led to all manner of philosophizing about the performance of standardized tests, as many commentators concluded that "curriculum-based" subject tests were empirically superior.

There was only one problem: the superior performance of the SAT "subject tests" was misleading, as it reflected the high predictivity of the SAT II Writing test, which (astonishingly enough) provided a more useful subscore than the SAT itself. One of the most extensive empirical studies, which observed cumulative GPAs over four years in the UC system, recently reestablished this conclusion. Now that the SAT II Writing is a part of the ordinary SAT, it's likely that the superior performance of SAT IIs has disappeared.

In any case, extolling the performance of SAT IIs as vindication of a curriculum-based approach to standardized testing was always wrong: the SAT II writing was a generic test on grammar and writing skill unconnected to any particular "curriculum," and it alone provided the SAT II's supposed edge in predictivity. Unless Bill Fitzsimmons has access to very different internal data at Harvard, it appears that he may simply be confused...

1 comment:

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