Thursday, March 6, 2014

The College Board trumpets SAT changes, but final outcomes will remain almost unchanged

    The College Board has announced that they are revamping the SAT. Once called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, SAT now stands for nothing.
    The SAT used to be an almost-perfect IQ test, and until 1995 it did the job so well that a high score was accepted by Mensa, the high-IQ society. It measured aptitude, not the ability to work hard, nor kindness, nor collegiality, nor a host of other factors that go into making one a success in life or in college.
    But the fact remains that all other things being equal someone with a high IQ is going to outperform someone with a low IQ. All other things being equal, a student with a high SAT score will outperform a student with a low SAT score. The best predictor of college success isn't high school grades alone, nor entrance examinations alone, but grades and exam scores used in tandem. Work ethic matters. A good work ethic combined with an above-average IQ matters even more.
    Americans hate the notion of IQ, particularly when expressed in its two-letter formulation. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently gushed all over the pages of his newspaper with praise for comments made by a Google executive, who said his company no longer used IQ in the hiring process and now hired primarily based on cognitive ability. Friedman saw this as a wonderful change.
    Is Friedman, who is supposed to be an American opinion-shaper, too dull to understand that IQ and "cognitive ability" are exact synonyms? If this executive had declared that "Our employees no longer drive trucks to work; they now use pick-ups," would Friedman have the sense to understand that the man was speaking complete gibberish?
    Back to the SAT. The idea of changes made back in 1994 and 2005 were designed to muffle the test as a measure of mere IQ and to reward those students who work hard mastering certain skills. The thought was that this would reward hard-working students with lower IQs at the expense of high-IQ slackers. It hasn't worked out that way.
    A test which rewards hard work is going to help high-IQ students who work the hardest. Thus Asians, whose propensity for academic work is no secret, have tended to do quite well on the SAT. Highly intelligent students from a non-competitive academic environment have fared poorly. By attempting to measure hard work rather than merely IQ the makers of the SAT actually skewed it further in favor of the brightest students from the best high schools.
    The College Board claims that the changes to the SAT are designed to more closely align the test with current schoolwork. In reality the changes will likely increase the importance of IQ as a determining factor of SAT success.
    That's essentially the only two choices these test-makers have. They can test achievement and hard work and the winners will be those bright students who prepare the most. Or they can just test IQ and include some kids without a great work ethic or without access to a quality school.
    In the end, achievement is the handmaiden of intelligence. Changing the SAT will alter scores a bit, but the final message is going to be one that society simply does not want to hear:
    Some students are smarter than others, some students will work harder than others, students who prepare for any type of test will outperform those who don't, and some students will do well on virtually any test designed to measure intelligence or achievement.
    The College Board can change the SAT, but insofar as outcomes are concerned, little will change.


Anonymous said...

Schools don't necessarily want the highly intelligent student who doesn't have the work ethic or didn't attend a good high school, because no matter how smart he is, he might not be able to get up to speed when he hits the books in college. So, if the new SAT does test for both achievement and intelligence, rather than intelligence alone, that's not a bad thing. Well, it is bad for the kid who didn't get access to a good high school, but the onus is on the school system to get kids ready, not colleges to identify super-smart poor kids who may or may not adjust easily to a college environment.
I agree with you that "final outcomes will remain almost unchanged." The SAT has been changed twice before in recent years, both in 1995 and 2005, with little change in scores according to demographic. Interestingly, elsewhere you've surmised that the new SAT is designed to extinguish Asians' advantage due to prepping. Yet the example you offer is in in the verbal section, where Asians typically do worse than whites, despite having overall higher scores. It's also worth noting that lower-income Asians typically outperform higher-income whites on the SAT (though, again, with somewhat lower verbals), even though poor Asians presumably have less access to quality test-prep than wealthier whites, who furthermore attend well-funded suburban or private schools. At any rate, the SAT has never tested for spatial skills, where Asians tend to excel, according to Ron Unz. He notes that Asians do poorly on verbal, however, while Jewish whites show the opposite. So the SAT would actually seem to be biased against Asians simply because it does not test an entire skill set!

Col. Reb Sez said...


It seems to me that the "new" SAT which will appear in 2016 is going to be more IQ-loaded. As I said, if they make the test harder to prep for by default the test has to swing towards IQ

You are correct that schools don't really want a high-IQ, low achievement student. However, these schools should be able to weed out the low-achievement types by using both test scores and high school class rank.

Currently whites outscore Asians in reading, but the last chart I looked at showed that Asians were now outscoring whites on the writing section that was added in 2005. I think the writing

There are some interesting charts available on the Internet showing the black-white SAT score gap. The gap was steadily declining until 1995, when the first set of changes went into effect. It then started climbing. In 2005, when the test underwent a massive overhaul to make it more "fair," and also more reflective of work, the black-white gap shank considerably for about two years, at which time it skyrocketed as students learned how to prep for the new test, to higher levels than 1995.

The 2016 SAT will include fewer math topics, which in my opinion is designed to keep Asian scores in line with everyone else's. My guess is we can expect more word problems, too.

Asians are going to continue to do quite well on the SAT. People who prep are going to do well. But any changes which are designed to eliminate a "prep" advantage will, if effective, have the effect of bringing down Asian scores in relation to those of other groups.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually surprised about what Friedman said about Google's recruiting methods, because Bill Gates himself told Friedman that software was all about IQ, and that he was afraid that he was losing the best and brightest to Wall Street. Friedman also noted in his book, The World is Flat, that Microsoft uses a battery of tests, including IQ tests, to identify top candidates at their Shanghai research center, and quoted Bill Gates (again) as saying that some of his best research comes out of Shanghai. Well,Friedman is no different from any other popular writer, who needs to 'switch it up' to keep his readership.
Anyway, I didn't realize that you'd replied to my original post, so thank you. Regarding the prep advantage issue, I think this pertains mostly to the fact that the College Board is now offering free test prep. The changes to the SAT itself, in terms of question types, will probably do little to eliminate prep advantage or self-prep. At any rate, I would argue that any measure that depresses test prep advantage would hurt whites the most, since they are, as a group, wealthier (often far wealthier) than Asians as a group. So the former has more resources to spend (waste) on fancy test prep courses and tutors (the ones in Manhattan charge upwards of $200 an hour). True, Asians prep too, but a far smaller proportion and number have the same resources as the upper-class whites whom they are pitted against in college admissions. Basically, there is a wider spread of incomes represented by Asians who aspire to Ivy life than whites. An Chinese kid from a slum (like NY Chinatown) would be a typical Harvard applicant, while a poor white kid from Appalachia would not.
But you are right about fewer math questions adversely affecting Asian performance. With a verbally-skewed exam, Asians, many of whom grow up in families that don't speak good English, will be at a distinct advantage. That might have been where test prep had the greatest impact for Asian kids--simply getting their vocabulary up to par with the typical white student who grew up in a home speaking good English.