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University of California Will Stop Using SAT, ACT (wsj.com)
229 points by big_chungus 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 351 comments






interesting url there...


I know some people protest measures that are considered more "objective" over measures that are more "holistic", whether this is in school admittance, performance evaluation, promotion consideration, interviewing, determining welfare benefits, choosing who makes the rules and governs.

However it has been my experience that whenever an explicit test or hierarchy is removed another shadow one builds up that is more subjective, more biased, and more subject to abuse.

Sure the SAT/ACT does favor students whose parents had enough money to afford private tutors, but it also meant that if I didn't have a private tutor if I could get a perfect score my chances increase. Now it changes to the whims of the interviewer, the committee that ranks my "holistic" experience, etc.


Yeah, I agree with this 100% - these students are going to be compared to each other somehow, and it's always going to be imperfect and favor those who are better off. Still, these tests are at least relatively objective, and if you remove them the kids will be compared with less objective measures that allow for more bias to be introduced.

The SAT/ACT are the worst form of college admission criteria very much in the same way that democracy is the worst form of government... except for all the others. A lot of people criticize them, but those critics haven't come up with anything better.


Here the common strategy for STEM degree programmes is to admit most people and then make first year hard enough that e.g. 2/3 of students are eliminated. In some sense it is more fair than strict admission criteria.

My college did this. They don't have the strictest admission standards, but they're ranked well in STEM because of this. What's funny about people criticizing standardized tests in college admissions is, at least in a big school, 80% of your Calc I grade is effectively three standardized tests, so if someone's just "a bad test taker," throwing them into the deep end with 1200 other freshman engineers isn't doing them any favors.

My university, another state school, did the same sort of thing. They have something like a 50% graduation rate, and employ the same sort of washout techniques in science classes. My freshman CS classes dropped to less than a quarter of their initial size by the end of the first semester. The math department is very selective about transferring credits too, to stop people from taking an easier Calc class at a community college.

I can see a future cynical me talking about how brutal it is to lure poor students and have them take loans to pay first year tuition only to kick them out a year later with nothing to show for it, if they're not the top 1/3 for some reason.

This is in the context of a free education system, the only thing the poor students loose is a bit of time.

A year is A LOT of time, and you have to explain why you lost a year later on.

Also, even in "free" education systems, some taxpayer is going to ask "why the hell am I paying for 2/3 of crappy students, can't you just raise the bar at the beginning, and only accept the top 1/3?"


A year is a lot? Then what is 5 years, a lifetime? Let's not fool ourselves, a year is NOTHING, it passes as soon as it arrives. There is nothing bad with people "loosing" a year or two, or perhaps even more.

In an ever more pacing world, we should readjust and look back, some might "sacrifice" a year, but they also learn valuable experience so not all is lost.

Today, when people's work time can last 50 years easily, what is a year or more? Let people "search for themselves". Let them try out the hard things, let them explore and value experience, realize if something is for them or isn't.

In the end, we learn most from our mistakes, not successes.


I sometimes wish I could remember that a year is a short time. I’m often wracked by guilt about not progressing at sub-yearly “ticks” on some aspects.

It is not that they do not learn anything during that year. Also, many of them later got admitted to some 'easier' school and got their credits transferred.

> and you have to explain why you lost a year later on.

That's only if you do nothing else for the rest of the year...


not grandparent, but where i live it's the same system: ten years ago tuition were 230€/year until your master degree, roughly half got cut after the first year and a fifth/quarter the second year.

That's essentially the same argument Supreme Court justice Rehnquist made during a case regarding the use of affirmative action in university admissions.

Oh oh. Those are called Caribbean medical schools.

In some sense more fair, but also in some senses less kind and less efficient. Let me give an anecdotal view as someone who had a brush with it at another big state school.

University of Washington (Seattle) has a similar system in which some majors are 'capacity constrained' meaning some students would be directly admitted to the program, but the vast majority of them would only enter the major program after being accepted via application while already attending school.

Highly competitive programs included Business and Engineering, but this even spilled over into less popular STEM variants like Math. Their CS program was and is the most competitive of these. At its worst an application round would have ~2000 applications and only ~600 open slots.

During my time there, I met a handful of students that had applied every session for the last few years to no avail. The opportunity cost is enormous. It's both a waste of time and money on the part of the students to spend multiple years wasted taking intermediate courses, retaking major-application required courses and reapplying. That's why the administration is slowly converting over to deciding major on admission, too much visible grievance on the part of students.

That aside, if it's competitive enough, it turns into a second college admissions process. Students retake the core classes required for an application like they would retake the SAT or ACT. Never mind that they passed CS 142 with a 3.4, only a 4.0 will get them in so they waste a quarter perfecting the most basic java programs for content they learned a few months prior. Students also try to engineer around the competition: a common refrain was that the equivalent courses at community college were much easier, but given the same weight in the admissions process so students would go to another college to take an easier course just to have a better shot at their dream major.

The point is that the competition for these colleges will come to a head somewhere. If it's not the college application process then it will be at the school itself. It can be managed, but putting it off till later leads to a greater burden on the losers of this process. They are faced with the choice of changing majors, changing schools or persisting with the hope that maybe the fifth application will be different than the fourth.

Fostering this kind of environment was a mistake on the part of UW. Perhaps it would have been better if they restricted applications to first years and weeded them out completely from the start like they do in your area, but letting the college admissions process do it might be much more efficient on the part of both the schools and the students.


Or they could hire more teachers. Why is education competitive and exclusive? It makes no sense. The whole thing pays for itself in value creation.

Why have two or three instructors when you could have one associate Dean! The associate Dean even comes with a PhD! Never mind that it's in "educational leadership". That's the equivalent to a real topic. And it pays better too.

The reason people want to go to Harvard and MIT is because it's competitive and exclusive.

You can take the same courses online and buy all the same books but that doesn't prove you're smart and hard working enough to get into Harvard and MIT. Almost all of the value in going to Harvard over Boston community college is in the degree which proves you made it into an exclusive and competitive group.


Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t pay for itself in value creation (“Human Capital Theory”). If you’re interested in this topic, I’d recommend https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Case_Against_Education.

They essentially do, but on other campuses throughout the state. The prestige of a University of Washington degree is much higher than one from Eastern Washington University and the quality at UW is probably also higher than that of EWU and similar schools but a student is going to be better off getting out into the world getting hands on experience with a bit lesser quality education.

rather than accepting them for an entire year and then kicking 2/3rds of them out, why not don't kick them out and just teach three times as many students. feels more humane somehow

That’s called lowering your standards. It punishes the third who would have made it under the old system. Better to have a test. Doesn’t waste a year of the lives of the two thirds who drop out.

Me learning doesn't hurt you.

But lowering the standards does. And that’s the only way you’re going from a pass rate of a third to 100%. You might be able to double pass rates to two thirds by putting many more resources into teaching but that costs money or comes out of research time/teacher satisfaction. You learning does hurt the top of the class if you’re a marginal student. Students on the verge of failure take up a lot more instructional and administrative time than the top third who were going to get through anyway.

Ha, my school straight up bell curved the grades for most classes at the TA level so that a certain number of kids were always going to get a D/F both of which are not passing grades and thus requiring the student to either retake it or switch majors. I myself had to retake 3 classes to get through it and I have had to explain it to one of my parents clients whose son is in the program and has now retaken his 4th class as a junior.

It was pretty brutal but also highly effective at getting me to really study the material to stay above the curve and pass.


If they were going to get through anyway, then where's the harm in then diverting some attention to bring others along too?

Also, from the context given here it's not as black and white as pass vs non-pass or "lowering standards" - it's about a rolling cut off on the amount of students they can take.


What's wrong with spending more time on helping struggling students?

That it inevitably means dropping the most challenging i.e. most valuable parts of the course? Not only are resources not infinite; if you make them accessible to worse students, that necessarily means removing the parts which are inaccessible.

To play devils advocate its not free and by default the cost accrues to the more successful students who may not have the financial resources to pay the additional funds and may opt not to attend despite being quite qualified. In some cases you may be trading more qualified graduates for less.

For some the truth may be that their lack of success may be external issues that can't be resolved by an additional investment of staff resources or just unsuitability for the program that can't be resolved other than by picking a more suitable major.

There is of course in the context of US education which wastes massive amounts of money so the actual answer is to stop wasting money on sports and invest that money in students but in all cases resources remain finite and some failure rate is inevitable.


In the context of the US, the lack of proper financial support coupled with the lack of a proper vocational education system means that a lot of people go to college when they will not succeed.

In the case of struggling students. I think it's hard to dismiss a person because they struggle in a single course. I failed calculus 2 and now I'm about to finish a PhD doing statistics and machine learning. Should I have been "let go" so to speak upon that failure?

Failures matter when they are cumulative not singular. This is why early warning systems in education fail so much. They rarely have enough information to provide a warning that is actually early.


Good point

It does though. If a teacher has to teach 50 students instead of 17, that is a huge difference in the amount of attention any given student will have for help. Teachers scale better than some things, but not infinitely.

The most important benefit of a university degree is the credential itself, indicating personal characteristics of the graduate. Lowering standards directly hurts the value of said credential. Learning is a side-effect of the process.

You are correct but isn't that strange and defective?

If you're not making into year 2 (or year 3), you can repeat ad vitam aeternam.

Now the school has a bad reputation, and students who spent four years of time and tuition have a diploma worth nothing?

Students are only occasionally actually kicked out. Much more common is that they struggle with the coursework, decide it isn't for them, and pick a different direction.

How many years of time do you think it is humane to provide to a student before suggesting somehow that they might consider an alternate use of their time?


Where I went, there was a hierarchy of lesser degrees to pick from.

That is a very expensive way of deciding who gets a degree. Also, it doesn't eliminate the problem of scarcity with those first year seats. You still need to decide who gets the chance to try in year 1.

The colleges also make more money that way. A 500 person freshman lecture class is a money maker. A 50 person capstone class is a money loser. I agree it's nice to give people a chance but it's not all rose considering the debt many of those people who don't make it take on.

What does those 2/3rd do then? Do they lose a year?

That depends on the student's choices. I dated a woman in college who was trying to get a degree in speech pathology. Because it was an "impacted" program, they use the process of having students take general core courses and then reevaluating them. She didn't get into the program after her first year. Given the choice of taking degree adjacent courses for a year or changing majors, she chose to go into special education instead. There were other schools in the state that offered speech pathology but they were branch campuses. Given the choice between speech pathology from a directional school or a special education degree from Big State University, she went with special education. That was her choice. From what I can tell from her Facebook posts, it seems to have worked out well for her.

The devil you know is better than the devil you dont.

SAT and ACT has been around for so long, I think college admissions can account for deviations to a certain extent.


Wow. I read this news on Twitter first and immediately thought what you so eloquently wrote above (even so far as comparing the imperfect measure to democracy or capitalism). Except I didn't find a single representation of this view on Twitter. When I come to HN I actually become more optimistic for the future of the world. Thank you.

Finland, often touted as the best in education, does not use SAT. The same can be said for many other European countries with excellent education. Are you implying there is no correlation? Have you looked at their systems before making a claim such as "haven't come up with anything better"?

Most european countries use very comprehsensive exams that govern not only admission into top universities, but are tied into being able to get a job AT ALL in a certain profession.

Basically - the countries have a number of slots for a profession they are looking to fill or that they expect demand for. They create that many university places that create eligibility for the position. Getting into these spots can be ridiculously difficult and the standardized exam is weighed MUCH MUCH more heavily than in the US (with it's "holistic" approach).

Whether or not this merit based / tracking based approach (which actually starts earlier in high school and before for many countries) is what leads to excellent outcomes is a question. But the tradeoff with free education is that the really expensive education has lots of criteria before you get it for free.


False by the way - Finland uses SAT a fair bit (often a minimum SAT is needed to even apply, ie, 500/500) if you didn't sit their entrance exams.

Spots are awarded very heavily based on points that anyone can calculate.

"Admission to the LAB University of Applied Sciences is dependent on scores earned either in the entrance examination or in SAT-test. Eligibility in itself does not yet guarantee admission. Student selection will be a competitive process in which the best Finnish degree certificates or entrance examination results or SAT results produce a place of study. See the studyinfo.fi -page for more information about student selection.

The applicant with the highest points score will be offered the first place, the second highest will be offered the second place, and so on until all places available have been offered.

In cases of equal minimum admission scores applicants will be ranked on the following ground:

all students with the same score will be selected."


Finland has its own national exam. Many European countries have something like this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matriculation_exam_(Finland)


I'm obviously speaking about the SAT/ACT in the context of the US system. The entire Finnish education system is extremely different than the one in the US - to say that they don't use the SAT and have better educational outcomes while ignoring everything else is just not a valid comparison. It would be equally valid to say "Finland teaches school in Finnish and they have better outcomes, so we should be teaching school in Finnish!"

There some people who assert that it is in fact the Finnish language that gives them an advantage in early schooling, that the language is much more regular and easier to learn that it gives school children something like a 2 year advantage over English learners.

Not disagreeing with you at all. Just wanted to point out another facet of the debate.


On the other hand, it is sometimes said (in folk circles, I'll admit, I haven't seen papers about this) that the good performance of Chinese students is related to having to learn a very difficult writing system, which acts as a cognitive "exercise" or stimulation.

So what's better to learn as a child, an easy to learn language or a really difficult one? Or maybe an easy one orally but a difficult writing system? I have no idea, but it's an interesting question indeed.


A key advantage seems to be no private schools:

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-am...


FYI, the article referenced while informative is from 2011. Finland performance on the PISA has dropped steadily since then. Article also does not discuss whether wealthier families hire tutors or other similar resources to assist their children.

It's an interesting idea. The other major language similar to Finnish is Estonian. Recently Estonia has been above Finland in PISA results, but I am still extremely skeptical of this idea. From a grammar standpoint I'm not sure that Finnish is actually easier to learn than English.

The other similar language to Finnish is Hungarian (that and a language spoken in Mongolia). My wife is Hungarian, so I have some exposure and I think the grammar is probably simpler in some ways (no "perfect" tenses for example), it is the spelling that probably would push it over the line.

Spelling in English is an atrocious amalgam of contributions from a number of languages. My son is learning that in school so I am getting a front-row seat to that (especially given me out of work and remote schooling). He is constantly running into places where the rule he just learned does not apply.

Oddly, I have heard the argument before that Japanese and Chinese students are at an advantage due to the complexity of writing their languages. The argument being that their brans are being trained by that to work harder. I am not sure I buy either argument.


There is a somewhat related argument that kids who grow up bilingual also get a harder brain workout that initially slows their language learning due to having to parse two languages but later gives them an advantage. I think maybe, but seems really hard to measure something like that.

My kid is growing up bilingual, with English his stronger language. We both grouch about the "atrocious amalgam of contributions" that is the English language when he wants an explanation why the words 'rough', 'though', 'through', 'thought' and 'plough' all have different pronunciations.


European entrance exams, including Finland's, are far, far worse than the SAT. They are much more serious and shape one's life far more and enforce systemic bias to much higher extreme.

I don't have direct experience but I think the whole system in Europe is designed to irrevocably pigeon hole students very early in the game.

If I remember California State Colleges have a bunch of placement tests to gauge what level of classes to put beginning students in. I think I'd be happier with a system that throws a net wide and than deals with the result on an as needed basis. Than a hyper meritocratic system that excludes large segments of society.


> the whole system in Europe

Pet peeve: There is no European system. At least every country has their own unique system.


So whats your point here?

That your statement about "the whole European system" is factually incorrect, because every single country takes their own approach, and there are huge variations between them.

Trying to tar the whole of Europe with one brush would be like Europeans conflating the US education system with Paraguay and Ecuador because it's the "whole American system".


So whats your point here?

Can't speak for all European countries as Europe is very diverse, but in Spain it's perfectly possible (and lots of people do it every year) to get top marks in the "selectivity" (entrance) exam after going to free public elementary and high schools. My partner grew up in a dairy farm, her parents have no degrees, she went to a small school in her small town in the middle of nothing, and she got into a medicine degree, which is one of the degrees with highest grade threshold. And it's not a unique story, it's quite common. So I don't think there is that much systemic bias. Especially if you also factor in the fact that tuition is cheap, or even free if your income is not high, so student debt isn't a thing either.

My understanding is that this is also true of the SAT, apart perhaps from the cost of tuition.

Would you mind explaining the difference? From a perfunctory search online it looks like Finland also has a system of university entrance exams (although of course theirs aren't called the SAT)

In France, you have special schools (classes préparatoires) where you spend 2 years after high school just to prepare the entrance exam of the most competitive schools. The entrance exam can last for a week, with two 4-hour exams a day, and is marked anonymously.

They don't care that you were the captain of the fencing team or can play harmonica.


I have never heard of Finland being touted as the best in education, especially not at the college or post-graduate levels.

What many countries do, unlike the US, is having life-defining entrance exams. Unlike the SAT/ACT which are just one factor of many, these tests determine whether a student gets in to a university or not.

The SAT may not be a great test, but at least it's not the sole factor in determining admission. It's absolutely better than what most European systems use.


> I have never heard of Finland being touted as the best in education, especially not at the college or post-graduate levels.

Finland has been the poster child in pre-university education now for almost two decades due to the good PISA results. Maybe less so recently as Finland's results have been in a slight decline.


I worry that "holistic" admissions in universities with highly competitive admissions are already disadvantaging groups that aren't culturally aligned with university administrators and their donors: Asian Americans, people from the South and rural areas regardless of race, and people brought up in religious households where most time spent on "extracurricular activities" is church-related. I personally think that people pushing against standardized tests and for holistic admissions have good intentions and aren't trying to systemically ensure that all students at prestigious and elite universities in the US talk, think, and act like them, but I can't blame anyone for thinking so. And I worry that will be the main result while the inequities they seek to fix will be obscured rather than improved.

Indeed, I briefly mentioned my service work with my church in my interviews as a part of an overview of me; it led to some of my larger accomplishments I wanted to highlight. In most interviews, this resulted in me getting a look like I'd just grown a third eye. This after reading web pages full of smiling, multi-cultural faces that lectured me on just how diverse and open-minded students and alumni were at these universities. I'm a bit baffled; when did attending church become unusual in America?

> when did attending church become unusual in America?

It’s not that common in elite liberal circles, especially in the NE corridor and California.

Note that some people in this group do go to church, but it’s just not widely advertised and is typically not a central part of their lives (e.g.(compared to some places where going to church for some sort of event 2-3 times on Sunday and 1-2 times during the week is a thing).

Also note that every Ivy League school was founded around a church and the church-based seminary/school. The same is true of many of the elite feeder prep schools. Note that there is a church prominently in the middle of all of the campuses.

That said, rightly or wrongly, churches are associated with anti-science folks who are anathema to most academics and academic types.


> I'm a bit baffled; when did attending church become unusual in America?

It’s not. Even in Manhattan 45% of people attend religious services “frequently” or “regularly.”


It’s very unusual among the kind of people who staff the admissions departments of selective colleges though.

Harvard, The most elite school in USA, has a church in the center of campus, an official preacher, and a whole Divinity School.

https://harvardmagazine.com/2007/07/faculty-faith.html

37% of professors at elite universities are atheist or agnostic. Saying Harvard is friendly to the religious because it has a divinity school is like saying Stanford is a hotbed of the rightwing because of the Hoover Institution, except that you would expect a lot of atheists and agnostics at Harvard’s divinity school and no Marxists at Hoover.


Could both the Hoover institution and the divinity school be a signal that there are no communists on campus?

I sometimes wonder if the US is less secular than Europe because atheists were for a long time associated with communists. Church going people obviously couldn't be communists.


Reminds me of the nebulous catch-all “cultural fit” criteria that allows a company to justify not hiring someone who, while they measurably fit with the job, the company just doesn’t want to hire due to some feeling or unconscious bias they have. When you remove quantitative measurements, no matter how flawed the measurements are, you risk further dooming discriminated-against groups.

It's also a useful catch-all to reject candidates who, while they have the technical skills, would cause significant personality clashes within the team. I don't disagree that the "culture fit" criteria can be abused in the way you're describing, and I'm sure it is, but I think it's a little less black and white than you're describing.

> I personally think that people pushing against standardized tests and for holistic admissions have good intentions and aren't trying to systemically ensure that all students at prestigious and elite universities in the US talk, think, and act like them, but I can't blame anyone for thinking so.

I’m not sure I feel like giving the benefit of the doubt here. I think folks are acting in good faith, no doubt. But they have decided that everyone who doesn’t talk, think, and act like them is a danger to society. Where those people are white, they can be condemned as “deplorables.” Where those same views are shared by minorities (Asian Americans with respect to views on family and marriage, and meritocracy, black people with respect to views on religion, etc.) they just select figureheads that happen to agree with them and then have those people claim to speak for everyone non-white.


some ideas are dangerous to society, flat out. ie, "the institution of slavery was good because it's part of my cultural heritage".

University admissions are not just an issue of personal merit. It isn't something that you're owed because you did X, Y and Z. Colleges are trying to build a positive culture, just like startups, and that can involve rejecting skilled people with fringe beliefs.

Not to mention, who wants to pay $30,000/yr and have their kid be roommates with a holocaust denier?

People can believe whatever they want. They just can't work and go to school wherever they want


Can you link the academic, journalist, politician, author, or executive who made the argument you're quoting, that slavery is good?

yes it was a man named "ie". perhaps you've heard of him?

Did you just claim that Asian Americans are disadvantaged by UC admissions?

> Part of the Mare report -- obtained by Sander through an open-records request -- looks at applicants by race/ethnicity for several years, noting those who -- all other factors being equal -- would have been admitted based on standard criteria. Over a five-year period, he notes that more than 1,300 Asian American applicants in this group were denied admission, while black and Latino applicants were admitted.

https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2018/11/19...


No, I referred to the broad category of "universities with highly competitive admissions". More of those are on the east coast than the west coast. California is a bit of an outlier in the US in both Asian American population and integration, so maybe UC is better and they'll be able to do away with standardized tests without hurting Asians too much. Anecdotally, though, people I know who grew up in California tend to think that UC lets in too many rich mainland Chinese and not enough from the large but poor and less integrated (vs. Vietnamese and Koreans) Filipino and Lao populations. Not sure how true that is, and I don't think UC records demographic info that granular, but as I mentioned the perception matters.

I second this. I grew up in a poor SE Asian country. There, we don't have prep school and such for SAT. But I went to US embassy library; borrow SAT prep books whenever they are available; make lots of photo-copies of some books (like Barron 3500 words) or just do practice tests at the library; and took these tests. I scored pretty well in SAT and SAT 2 subject tests that I won full scholarship at one of the good schools in the US.

It took me ~1.5 years to prepare for these tests (English was the hardest; math, physics, bio and chemistry are fairly easy because I finished high school there and the curriculum there is much tougher than the ones in the states), but in the end it's 100% worth it because without the scholarships, I'd never have been able to study in the US and be able to support my family (siblings and widowed mom) back home. If the admission committee decides solely based on holistic view like volunteering and other extracurricular activities, how could I compete with other well-off kids in the US for admission?


Until you mentioned it, I had no idea that so many embassies ran libraries. Thank you for teaching me something new.

Thank you. :) The US embassy library in Rangoon (Yangon) is a good resource (at least when I was there back in 2000-2005). There is favoritism (library staff giving favors to people they know by keeping some books off the shelf and letting their favorite/connected people borrow first), a lot of boot-licking (library and embassy staff, who are mostly local people, licking the boots of foreigners while looking down on native/local people), and class hierarchy (mostly the rich kids have access to the library; sure there are some people like me from less well-off families, but that's not common).

If one can ignore these ugly aspects and one can be patient to wait for the books needed to show up on the shelf (I took a bus for 45 minutes one way to go to the embassy almost everyday and stay there from 9am-2pm every day to catch the book I want being returned), the embassy is still the best resource we had.


I didn't have a tutor, I got relatively bad grades in school (was boared?) - SAT was a game changer for me - got me into a good school -> learned some stuff -> making great money.

The question is not, is the SAT bad, it is, what about the new system will be better and fairer.

The other factor - this is likely a way to reduce asian american attendance at the top UC schools. The Harvard case really revealed how legacy admits etc came in with MUCH lower scores. Same thing with the scandal around sports admits, a way to get in with MUCH lower SAT scores. I'm not against either, but getting away from SAT will help hide this fact (ie, big donor gets kid in even if they are 200 points lower than average).


> this is likely a way to reduce asian american attendance at the top UC schools

This is exactly what I was thinking when I read the Times article about this yesterday. I also applied to college last year, so I have a pretty recent knowledge of the process.

I spent a grand total of $28 and managed to get a 99th percentile score on the SAT. To claim it’s impossible to score high on that test without money is absolutely false. There are many free or low-cost resources out there, including Collegeboard sponsored Khan Academy prep (free for everyone). All it really requires is time and discipline (as do other things in life). Sure, it’s not perfect, but GPA and extracurriculars can vary vastly across schools, and the SAT provides a pretty good indicator of one’s academic ability in comparison to others.

The supreme irony in my case is that I go to a school in Texas for completely free thanks to merit scholarships funded in part by Texas taxpayers, while the schools in my state (California) are charging $30k per year despite being funded by my parents’ taxes. Basically, going out of state was more affordable in my situation.


> I spent a grand total of $28 and managed to get a 99th percentile score on the SAT. To claim it’s impossible to score high on that test without money is absolutely false.

No one is claiming it's "impossible", and I don't want to minimize your experience -- 20 years ago, I also scored 99th percentile on the SAT with only $15 spent on practice books -- but it's absolutely not the norm.

The reality is that a SAT scores correlate with wealth. Both directly, in that while you and I may not need tutoring to improve our scores, there are also millions of kids out there who do benefit from expensive tutoring, and millions of kids who would benefit, but don't because they can't afford it. But also indirectly: I'd be willing to bet you don't come from a low-SES background: i.e., living in poverty, unable to afford basic needs, parents or guardians infrequently present, with unsteady income, etc. (For the record, I don't have this background.) If I'm wrong about your background, you are truly an exception, not merely in the 1% of SAT scorers.

Using the SAT in college admissions means that admissions is biasing -- at the margins -- towards, of those students who would benefit from expensive tutoring, the subset who can afford it.


> The reality is that a SAT scores correlate with wealth.

Everything good correlates with wealth. Wealth is quite literally the ability to make things happen.

The relevant question is, do SAT scores correlate with wealth more or less than whatever holistic criteria the UCs will be switching to? And if they correlate more, is it because the holistic criteria are actually fairer or because the UCs are Goodharting on highly visible measures such as wealth?


> The relevant question is, do SAT scores correlate with wealth more or less than whatever [...]

Well, no, because the SAT correlates with wealth while plausibly having claim on being an objective measure.

When little Johnny gets an internship as his daddy's company, that obviously correlates with wealth, and admissions committees can discount it. When little Susie is on a groundbreaking paper from mommy's lab, that obviously correlates with wealth (not necessarily financial), and admissions committees can discount it.

Other activities can be more easily/obviously/readily discounted for wealth, while the SAT's correlation with wealth is harder to account for.


I think you're overstating how easy it is to discount for wealth in those other scenarios. At least when it comes to high school research experience, it has rarely been the case IME that a student got such a position directly because of their family, and certainly it is very rare that a student explicitly works in a parent's lab.

Yes, some private high schools feed to quality summer research programs, but A) those schools give out more aid than you'd think and B) a number of public magnet schools have similar success in placing students with labs. I am sure that this does still correlate with wealth to some degree, but I don't think it does so in a way that the admissions committee can easily "see".

Beyond that, I think the vast majority of admissions committees (including all of the ivies) have little interest in discounting anything. I watched a lot of students that to be honest were just average get into very good schools, purely on good (inflated) grades from a name brand high school. The kids from my summer research cohort also got into very good schools for the most part, but those students were actually some combination of insanely smart and insanely dedicated.

It's a very hard problem for sure, I don't feel confident enough to say strongly that a particular set of metrics is obviously good or obviously bad. But I don't think removing standardized testing on the whole is likely to help with discounting for wealth (and I also don't think they really want to).

FWIW I think SAT/ACT are bad indicators for the "elite" schools because they just saturate and stop having much value in splitting the applicant pool. Especially the math section, it becomes a matter moreso of making a careless mistake or two.


I agree with everything you said and would like to add that I suspect

> I think SAT/ACT are bad indicators for the "elite" schools because they just saturate

this is a feature. Elite schools don't want to be able to tell the 0.5% from the 5%, because then they wouldn't be able to select for rich and solidly but not amazingly competent kids. They'll take the 0.01% olympiad medalists to fill their genius quota, then fill the rest of their cohort with solid, hardworking, well-connected kids who'll boost the prestige (and donations) of their institution more than the scrappy smart kid who aced every standardized exam with no support to speak of but probably won't (want to) learn the lingo and do the hustle to make it into McKinsey's.


MIT explicitly transitioned in this way with former admissions director Marilee Jones, who moved away from "just admit the geniuses" to "let's get some of the well-rounded kids too".

Ha - that's me - and I probably should have gone McKinsey route

> I watched a lot of students that to be honest were just average get into very good schools

"Average" on what criteria?

I think I was unclear about research experience and similar -- it's not that having these experiences is a marker of wealth, it's that if the experience was only enabled by wealth, then it's more visible. If you're in mommy's lab -- what wealth without talent can get you -- it's clearer than if you got a tutor for the SAT. But perhaps I'm wrong on this.

You also raise a good point -- I don't think schools want to discount for wealth. I think they want to have interesting and capable people. Wealth makes many, if not most, people more interesting and capable. Why discount for that?

They want to avoid uninteresting, incapable students who appear interesting and capable because of wealth -- but there's no issue with admitting interesting, capable students who could take advantage of their own (parents') wealth to become more interesting and more capable!

Elite schools have long used the SAT/ACT as a "shouldn't score below XYZ" indicator for middle class students, and as a way to propel underrepresented students.


I'm sure SAT scores correlate with wealth, but the more important question is if they correlate with knowledge.

In the end, there isn't any point in admitting a student to a university where they don't understand the curriculum. So the important question that I expect universities to ask themselves is: are we getting enough information about how well a student is going to be prepared for our curriculum based on their SAT score?

If rich people who know less have higher SAT scores than poor people who know more, then the systemic bias is in the SAT itself. If not, then the SAT isn't the problem, the actual school system is. And, unless they want to take on educating younger children, Universities can't to do too much to fight that type of bias.

I firmly believe that exams are in principle the only fair way to do admissions in educational institutions. They could be national exams or admissions exams created by that institution itself, but either way, as long as the exams are kept un-biased (which I'm not claiming is an easy problem to solve) and scoring is anonymous, you get the closest thing we have to a fair process.

The only alternative could be an easy exam covering just the bare-minimum knowledge, and a lottery system for everyone who passes the exam.

Of course, private universities are free to be as biased as they want. I don't think it's ethically or morally correct, but it shouldn't be illegal.


> If rich people who know less have higher SAT scores than poor people who know more

This considers only academic knowledge, and specifically only that knowledge that can be assessed in a standardized way.

Such knowledge makes up a very small fraction of success -- though you could make the argument that students' ability to acquire and demonstrate it probably correlates with success much more than the knowledge itself.

Second, why would you want to go to college with a bunch of other kids who just meet some bar on some measure of academic capability? At least in the US, college is most kids' first experience living away from home for an extended period of time. Wouldn't you want to be with driven individuals, interesting conversationalists, performers, intellectual peers across other disciplines, etc.?

Why limit admissions to "book smarts"? Why is that the most fair?


My understanding of a university is exactly as a place of learning of academic knowledge. If academic knowledge is not the most important value in an university, then I really don't understand what the purpose could be.

As such, in a university setting, I expect to be surrounded by people who are curious, who value learning, who are building up the skills and knowledge to excel in their chosen fields. In my own country, universities are usually specialized, and further divided into highly specialized 'faculties', which has upsides but also downsides. Still, even in the American college system, I would expect all of my peers to be interested in excelling in their chosen fields of study, whether that is music or sports or medicine or computer science. I would not expect to be surrounded by people who are just ok at academic knowledge but are really driven social workers, or by people who have basic knowledge in a lot of fields, but no advanced knowledge at all.


> I expect to be surrounded by people who are curious, who value learning, who are building up the skills and knowledge to excel in their chosen fields.

Do you truly believe you can measure this with a single standardized exam?

I’m not even sure you can measure academic knowledge with a standardized exam, let alone all the other attributes we agree we’d like to see in peers at university.

One thing is for certain: the SAT is not that exam.


> I'd be willing to bet you don't come from a low-SES background

That’s true, I don’t. I come from a middle-class background (at least, what counts for middle class in CA)

> Using the SAT in college admissions means that admissions is biasing -- at the margins

I agree with you here. However, removing the SAT requirement does little to improve the status quo. I’ve personally seen parents do things like move their kids to different schools so that a bad semester grade wouldn’t stick on their transcript, and of course, rich parents funding/helping establish startups and nonprofits that their kids claim they founded/ran for college application purposes. The truth is, having a good GPA or resume is more likely to get you in, and some of the more impressive/rare “accomplishments” that students like to tout in their activity summaries and essays are simply unavailable to lower income students, making it harder for them to appear competitive to an admissions committee.


> The truth is, having a good GPA or resume is more likely to get you in, and some of the more impressive/rare “accomplishments” that students like to tout in their activity summaries and essays are simply unavailable to lower income students, making it harder for them to appear competitive to an admissions committee.

Yes, but admissions officers know this, so I don't think the inability of students whose parents don't found startups for them to play with is really that much of a hit.

In reality, if all else is equal, a student from a low-SES background has a much better shot at admission -- because doing all those upper-middle-class college-signaling things is much harder when you're not upper-middle-class, and thus much more impressive because it indicates a level of ability above and beyond the equivalent upper-middle-class student.

I posted about this elsewhere in the thread, but admissions committees are not actually trying to optimize over the set of various typical middle-class college-aspirational things -- they are trying to optimize for success & fit both in college and post-college, so they'll students in the incoming class will become good friends, have fond feelings, and bring both financial and prestige rewards to the university.

They don't care -- and shouldn't care -- who can perform the motions the best.


I don't really have a point, just going to add in my experience and some thoughts.

I came from a lower middle class background, not white if that matters, did next to zero studying, paid nothing to prepare and got a 96th percentile score. The extent of the preparation I did was practice tests held at my high school.

However, I didn't come from the background you described: living in poverty, unable to afford basic needs, parents or guardians infrequently present, with unsteady income.

I had a roof over my head, never worried about where my next meal was coming from. The only thing I'd might have in common with people of that background is that my parents didn't graduate elementary school, parents were paid less than min wage under the table, and that I grew up on welfare.

That's my background. From where I stand I'm skeptical that tutoring really skews the results to the extent that wealth is primary thing measured by the SATs. I had no tutoring and only relied on the education I received from public schools. That said, the quality of public schools still correlated with wealth. But school quality being linked to wealth is a much bigger problem than standardized testing. And it doesn't change, ultimately, how much education the test taking has absorbed from school. Removing the SATs as a requirement may or may not make things better. But doing it and claiming that you're making things better for those that are less fortunate seems like a stretch when the root cause is that they're receiving a poorer education in the first place given that if you fixed that, this problem of standardized testing would benefit the rich to a much lesser extent.


Thanks for sharing your story.

> But school quality being linked to wealth is a much bigger problem than standardized testing.

Agreed. The UCs can't solve this problem on their own, though. The UCs have different admissions criteria for undergrads than private selective colleges, in my understanding -- they can't treat the SAT as an optional indicator, it's part of a score.


What criteria that you will use for admission won't correlate with wealth?

Grades? Ability to complete college successfully?


I didn't say "use criteria that don't correlate with wealth". I'm just saying that wealth can be used to boost SAT scores.

Selective colleges are looking for students who (a) meet a baseline for academic success there, and then (b) succeeded with respect to their opportunities, in ways that suggest future success is likely.

Success looks different in different environments, and that includes different levels of wealth, access to institutions, community, etc. Much of the stress of this competitiveness comes from large wealthy metro areas and their suburbs, where the access to opportunity is generally huge.

How do you demonstrate exceptional ability to succeed in an environment where you can't sneeze without hitting success?


The reality is, richer kids are more likely to be good students.

"Holistic" often ends up meaning "I'll make up the rules, and you dont get to know what the rules are"

I'd rather take my chances on an unfair system with open rules than on an unfair system with opaque rules.

Edit: spelling


> I'd rather take my changes on an unfair system with open rules than on an unfair system with opaque rules.

I think this is a perfect summary. No system is perfect but at least the flaws are consistent and well-known, not subject to the whims of a particular group on a particular day.


While I would personally take the unfair system with open rules, the system with opaque rules has an advantage in that it's more difficult to game the system. With open rules, you work off a formula for maximising your chances, which may defeat the purpose of the system.

I'm a bit confused - how is prepping and/or studying for the SAT "gaming the system"? I realize SATs are not a prefect reflection of learning, and I also recognize we can make the tests better and better -- but -- what better system is there to gauge learning across millions of people in a consistent manner? I'm honestly interested in some measure that is better, and isnt subject to corruption and whims of the few and stacked in favour of the 1%.

>> opaque rules has an advantage in that it's more difficult to game the system

You are right that with opaque rules, you cannot study your way into college anymore -- because it will depend on who you know, which charitable boards your parents are part of, which civic organizations you support, how good your sports videos are choreographed, how good an essay writer you hire for your college application, how genuine your weekend "service trip to country x" photos look, etc. When you get rid of tests and replace them with opaque measures that is the sort of gaming you end up with -- and that seems like a far worse type of gaming.

I'm comfortably middle class, studying way into a good college from below poverty. Prep books on weekends for 2yrs. I realize it is hard, it isn't fair -- but I dont want to replace that system where my children have to buy their way into college -- which is where we'll end up. I'm not wealthy enough to donate a building. I'm not connected enough to land on a charitable board with a college administrator. My kids have to study their way in.

Now...i'm hearing there is no way to study their way in. Rather, we need to figure out how to please each individual school's decision makers. Is that really what is more fair? Is that what the 99% want?


I'll concede my answer perhaps isn't completely applicable to SAT's which are, from what I understand, more of an IQ test. The equivalent exams in my country are on subjects that the student has studied for two years, but mainly involve getting the exam papers for the past three to five years and learning the patterns of questions, then rehearse the answers before the test. The marking system is designed to discourage anything other than this approach as the answers need to correspond to the schema the examiner has been given. I could pass a test in a subject I don't even have a basic understanding of so long as I follow the correct marking schema.

> You are right that with opaque rules, you cannot study your way into college anymore

I think you've hit on a key point which raises the obvious question: Who benefits?

Dismissing standardized testing reduces people who do well at tests, either through skill, speed, or rigorous study.

What groups, experiences, or attributes does it select for?


>> What groups, experiences, or attributes does it select for?

Thats the thing -- it becomes a way for admins to select whomever they want, using their own secret/opaque criteria which may well be biased, unfair, unjust.

In New York City, where I grew up, there has been a huge backlash against entrance examinations for high school. The official stance is they are discriminatory because people could prep for the exams, but a quick survey of the schools reveal "too many" poor Asians were getting in. People who could really afford prep schools were going to private schools and boarding schools. Poorer, but intensely driven students wanting to succeed, were prepping for years for the public school exams and "overrun" the schools.

The city chose only three high schools to focus for desegregation (interestingly, the three which most Asians). Original talks were to move to a "leadership based application system" -- as if people really have opportunities to demonstrate "leadership" at age 13 or 14. Leadership here is a euphemism for "being connected" or "wealthy."

To be fully frank, I admit the tests are not fair. A truly fair system would have as many good schools as students wanting to attend them. But we dont have that -- so instead we all compete for a handful of spots that poor students can afford while the truly wealthy buy their way into wherever they want. It isnt a perfect system. The test may not be perfect -- but perhaps then we should try to improve the test, or understand why some students can/cannot do well on the tests -- rather than creating a secret system where a few people get to decide which poor students get good schooling and who gets to remain stuck in the economic prison for another generation.

Disclosure: I studied for years for these exams, went to an application based NYC high school, and went from below poverty line to well into top 1% income in the span of 8yrs. The schools matter, enormously.


> Sure the SAT/ACT does favor students whose parents had enough money to afford private tutors

Not really, most evidence points to private tutors as we know them having a very small impact on test scores. On a large study low-income students controlled I recall something like +30 points and something like a non-statistically-significant difference for high income students. The income difference was still its usual +100 points.

The thing you and pretty much everyone else conflates with private tutors as Americans conceive them is cram schools, which are a different beast entirely. If you just punch private tutoring into Google Scholar you'll see they're really talking about cram schools whenever a large effect is observed.

Should the University of California system reward parents who coerce their kids into a childhood-robbing experience they will pay dearly for later?

Who's going to investigate, "Do kids who endured cram school emerge healthy?"

Does that sound like a good policy, cram school?

We don't want our regular education system to resemble a cram school. We regularly rally against teaching to the test. We can't have it both ways. Cramming is not valuable, it simply isn't, it is only valuable in a very narrowly delusional, zero sum worldview but it's not a policy.


I'm not American, but I have seen a lot of my friends apply for American universities. Personally, I think the whole admission process is super messed up. In most places one would take a nation/international examination and based on the score of that exam one would enter. In the US one has to pay "college counselors" and various middle men for handling all sorts of things. I don;t see how removing SATs would make it "fairer" for students from less well to do backgrounds. Removing college counselors would though.

This is not to say I would agree with the fact that the SATs/ACTs are good. To be fair as far as exams go these exams have a lot of loop holes. I have seen people who can't speak proper English get perfect scores on these exams by memorizing hard words. The mathematics section is a bit of a standing joke in many Asian countries. It is almost impossible for a high school student to get less than the full score in many countries as it would not be possible to pass other national/international boards.

In all honesty, rather than scrap ACT/SAT, one probably should review these exams. It is possible for one to design an exam such that private tuition doesn't give too much of an advantage.


> In the US one has to pay "college counselors" and various middle men for handling all sorts of things.

That wasn't a thing when I was applying in 2005, is it recent? I just applied directly to the colleges I wanted, filled out the forms myself with some help from my parents.


No, I just went through applications, and that's not a thing, except with a few rich parents who are desperate to get their kid who has slacked off for years into a decent school.

Today's headline news:

"Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli agree to plead guilty in college admissions scam"


Yes exactly. This is why every tech company should apply this type of standardized testing to software engineers as well. We can test for specific types of algorithms and have them regurgitate them on whiteboards, making it easy to compare each candidate on highly relevant skills they will be using on the job. It's not perfect because there's still rampant ageism in our industry but it's better than letting ourselves use inferior shadow subjective judgement (cue loud dog whistle). Otherwise we might become biased and look at completely irrelevant things that don't measure a model programmer correctly. /s

Obviously we shouldn't throw away the kinds of tests that I score highly on. Only the bad tests that reject my genius.

Okay, I hated taking SATs as much as anyone, and have an AP exam in a few hours, so I'm no standardized test fan. But there are reasons for it that obviously don't apply in the same ways when evaluating job applicants. While some objective comparison might be helpful, this is a massive apples-and-oranges issue.

* College applicants have, by and large, no real-world experience that demonstrates their competency. There are obviously exceptions, but this remains true of the vast majority. Most job applicants have at least some experience, so it's easier to weed out the fruit loops by taking a look at their resumes. There's a lot more high-quality objective information by which one could compare job applicants than college applicants.

* Job applications typically narrow the pool to a few candidates to be seriously evaluated. College bureaucrats have thousands. It's more realistic for a potential employer to perform more "holistic" evaluations then for a college to do so simply because of problems of scale. The interviews used to fill most of this role, but bureacrats have gradually shouldered that role: my parents had interviews of two hours for most of their colleges, which seemed to be common for that day. I had interviews of forty-five minutes when they went well, and this was true for my peers as well. Now I guess some administrator sits in a dark room and by the light of a single candle looks up your extracurriculars to determine your zodiac sign and thus your fitness for the school, or whatever garbage they came up with.

Where do you usually see the subjective, interview-style evaluations break down in favor of whiteboarding? Big FAANGs that have a scale that makes that sort of individual evaluation difficult and may necessitate whiteboarding. Universities hit this same problem, only with the added concern that there's even less consistent basic competency: about one third [0] of students require remedial courses and therefore probably ought not to have been admitted to college. So there has to be at least some metric by which they can consistently compare.

On the other hand, I applied to a bunch of "elite" schools that all had black-box "holistic admissions" processes. What frustrated me wasn't that "Oh no, now I can't game the system; drat!" Rather, I didn't know what to emphasize for best effect because they didn't make what they valued clear. I had enough stuff about which I could write that I could pick and choose, and I wasn't sure which I ought to pick. This made things like ordering my resume and writing my essays more difficult. You know who probably could have told me what to write about and how to order my resume, though? A fancy, expensive college consultant. Making the process more opaque only helps those who literally pay people to sit around and figure out how to game the system.

[0]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5184995_Shape_Up_or...


> You know who probably could have told me what to write about, though?

A high school guidance counselor?

Black-box holistic admissions processes are nothing new, most selective institutions have overtly had them for decades even if they didn't tend to use the word “holistic” to describe them (they have weighted a wide range of factors beyond GPA and test scores, and have never announced how most of them were measured or how they, once individually measured, were aggregated, but advising on the that has been—since sometime I started preparing to apply to college in the late-1980s—a major function of high school counselors.

An expensive college consultant could tell you who and how to bribe to bypass the admissions process applicable to more plebian applicants, though.


> A high school guidance counselor?

I was home-schooled, so not a great option. Also remember that the public schools in some places are pretty awful, and they just don't have experience getting students into those schools because almost none ever apply.


It's a shame this conversations always has to split into either of two camps: dogmatically for standardized testing or against it. It's almost as if there's no awareness that perhaps it could be beneficial to try both, perhaps where it's appropriate, and see what the outcome is. Just like not every company uses whiteboard interviews.

Oh don't get me wrong, I really hate standardized testing. It's been the bane of my existence for several years now. I waste time cramming stuff I learned years ago to prove to some pencil pusher that I do in fact know it (even though I've been working on much more advanced stuff since then). However, I also think using some of it as an objective bar to meet is a necessary evil, though not as a sole metric (I think the European model of "take one test to determine your life" is absolutely horrible, but that's what one gets in a planned economy.)

I agree. I don’t think I would have gone to the Ivy’s without standardized testing. Rust-belter from a public school. Obviously, there are no easy answers. So many great students, teachers and perspectives... and probably an early realization that no one knows it all - especially me. I still look back at my education with nostalgia. The working world isn’t any more fair than the educational world.

> I know some people protest measures that are considered more "objective" over measures that are more "holistic",

I don't think anyone does that; “objective” and “holistic” are on orthogonal axes. The opposite of “holistic” is “narrow” and of “objective” is “subjective”.

You can have narrow or holistic subjective criteria, and narrow or holistic objective criteria.

> Sure the SAT/ACT does favor students whose parents had enough money to afford private tutors,

Well it favors students for whom the cost (both financial and opportunity) of taking it multiple times isn't an issue, even if tutoring isn't a factor.


All education will be biased toward people who have had more resources from early childhood on. But what has been revealed is kids that go to elite colleges but have fewer resources growing up and get worse grades actually do about as well as their better trained and supported counterparts.

So the conclusion is that there's probably a cultural bias going on for kids who are underprivileged that goes away once they enter the workforce if given the opportunities.


> However it has been my experience that whenever an explicit test or hierarchy is removed another shadow one builds up that is more subjective, more biased, and more subject to abuse.

Many people seem to take as given that college admissions should be about "objectively" choosing the most deserving students academically and/or extracurricularly. That is not a complete picture.

At the top schools, there's a big focus on constructing an incoming class with students that are likely to succeed both in college and post-college, such that the class is likely to include future stars in law, medicine, business, academia, etc., likely to be able to contribute money or prestige to the institution in 20 years -- these correlate with high school academic performance, for sure, but they also correlate with who your parents are, what types of activities you choose to engage in, your internal initiative and knowledge of yourself, etc.

Of course, there's no way to know all this in advance, so admissions officers use a very noisy process to try to guess. That the SAT is game-able with money makes it a less useful indicator, because it starts to correlate with wealth rather than academic ability. Wealth already has plenty of proxies that are visible in the application file, so having another indicator of it is not super helpful.

> it also meant that if I didn't have a private tutor if I could get a perfect score my chances increase

Sure, if admissions officers ignore everything else they know about you -- which they don't!


Crazy idea: What would happen if there was a circulating board of "shit testers" who each had their own very explicit, formal, and pre-meditated method which they had to apply equally to all people they were judging?

The intentional net effect being something like a pool of unpredictable ever-changing criteria that pokes at person from all sides to see whether or not they're a polished turd.

I think if it worked it would introduce a lot of chaos, but it would also be (hopefully) extremely difficult to game.


>However it has been my experience that whenever an explicit test or hierarchy is removed another shadow one builds up that is more subjective, more biased, and more subject to abuse.

I think it's naive to assume that this is an accident.

This is _exactly_ the reason to make admissions more subjective: to give a small group of people carte blanche to pick and choose candidates based on race, origin, etc.

This way the annoying statistics about affirmative action that look plainly racist just... disappear.


I don't have WSJ subscription, but the part that cuts off right before the paywall says they are creating their own test. Maybe the hope is that they can create a test with less biases, but I have little optimism for a system that replaces two standardized and widely used tests with each school system creating their own versions as a replacement. This will make the process more complicated for all applicants and might inadvertently increase the advantage that wealthy have as now each school's test would need a different approach requiring more individualized and therefore more expensive prep.

Exactly. "Creating their own test". Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Except if most other schools follow this path, the average student will go from 1 boss to 5+. That end result would almost unquestionably be worse for the kids this is trying to help.

Very much agree. Of course this will drive up the cost of these elite prep programs because you'll need to find one that has the capability to summarize so many different tests and provide essentialized coaching. That won't come cheap. So only the very wealthy will have the means for this.

Another fine piece of work brought to us by the good intentions paving company.


> if I didn't have a private tutor if I could get a perfect score my chances increase.

Sure and if you never played basketball ball but hit a 3 pointer on your first try 100 times in a row you could play for the golden state warriors.


I agree as someone from a poor family that went to a tiny school in one of the worst states in terms of education. I was lucky to be accepted to one of the top schools in the world for a combination of grades, near perfect ACT scores, and athletics. I worked hard without the benefit of any tutors and not much thanks to my teachers since most of them taught multiple subjects, most were family members of the school's founder, and they offered no advanced or AP courses. I'm also extremely grateful that my entire tuition was covered by financial aid scholarships because I can't imagine the debt I would be in otherwise as my parents certainly could not have afforded the tuition. One year's tuition was more than their combined income.

I was the first in my school to go to a top 10 college in over 20 years, so they made a pretty big deal out of it. I was also one of two people in the entire university from that particular state during my freshman year with the other student having gone to the top private high school in that state (~30k/yr for tuition).

In other words, hard work and performance on the ACT was a huge contribution to being accepted to the schools I did, although I do contribute athletics as an equal contribution since it gave me the benefit of early admission. Then again, if the SAT was a requirement, I probably wouldn't have been accepted because I didn't do nearly as well on that one.

Personally, I think it should be a combination of academic performance and other more "holistic" measures. The particular university I went to really emphasized being a well-rounded person and are known for rejecting students with perfect ACT/SAT scores because their application didn't reflect any particular drive, motivation, passion, whatever.

Just because you can test well and got good grades does not necessarily mean that you'll thrive in such a competitive environment and make the contributions that the school loves to flaunt. They also want to maintain their graduation rate and don't want people that dropout or transfer from getting overwhelmed (or being entitled because that attitude got stomped out quick). Despite being someone that has always thrived in such a high pressure environments, I admit that things got overwhelming for me pretty often and affected my mental health to a great degree. The stress and imposter syndrome took a major toll on my mental health, academics, and athletics. It got so bad for some that they didn't even survive (suicide).

I didn't do nearly as well in university as I had hoped in any facet, but I don't regret it because it made me stronger and ready for the world. I'm happy with the success I've found after years of working hard even after graduating. However, I do often wonder if I would have been more successful at a school that was less high stakes.

----

For those potentially applying to college and as cliche of advice as it is, I advise really emphasizing personal hardship and how you've overcome it in your application essays. Basically, demonstrate that you recognize your weaknesses and overcome them and also demonstrate that you don't turn away from obstacles.

Give the admission board the perception that you are constantly progressing, not going backwards or maintaining your current progress, and that nothing is going to stop you from doing so. Excellent academic performance is often good supporting evidence of that, but good grades and test scores by itself doesn't necessarily prove that determination. You should provide as much evidence of that as you can, whether it's extracurriculars, succeeding despite social and economic disadvantages, major life events, natural disasters, etc.


If one leaves out the 'what is fair' part, then it is ok (and probably best for society) that a student gets favored who can learn/absorb the material (no matter how).

One thing I’d like to see is freezing grade inflation. A more normal distribution curve for grades rather than an abnormal amount being rated A/A+.

You can't without standardized metrics, is the problem! If no one's failing, must someone always get a D?

Not in a given class, but across all instances of that class, surely it will be more normal.

Not if the population is not a random sample. Cal Tech admits would have no problem doing a two year A.S. in CS in one semester. Doesn’t mean you can expect the same of the average community college student. A highly selected student population could easily have the worst student in class at Harvard doing better than the best student at Directional State U.

Why does this make any sense?

Generally speaking, students at top universities are intelligent and hard-working. Their talent is not normally distributed, and this is increasingly the case as admissions becomes hyper-competitive. Not to mention, students self-select into courses to which they are most suited and likely to perform well.

If all students in a particular class master the subject matter, why should some students be forced to receive failing grades?

Should the purpose of higher education be to rank students on increasingly marginal criteria or to...educate?


It's what is done in Australia. It works pretty well.

Failing grades are not handed out this way, if you demonstrate a basic understanding of the material you pass. But actually getting an HD, the top mark, is only for the top 20% or so from each class.

It means in Australia for a technical subject if you get First Class Honours you can get into a PhD program and get a scholarship and get through in 3 years if you work hard.


> rank students on increasingly marginal criteria or to...educate?

You can still educate perfectly fine while making the assignments and tests very difficult. Do students attend schools to get A’s or to get educated?


Because the average score should be a 2.0 GPA.

If that university has a better fount of students then an A at that uni is better than an A at another uni. Don’t worry, institutional reputation is already a thing, so that’s not a problem. Grade inflation means you have no idea how poorly of well someone is because everyone gets a “participation” score.


You just used different words to re-state the same assertion that achievement should be shoehorned into a normal distribution regardless of students' actual performance. Why?

> Grade inflation means you have no idea how poorly of well someone is because everyone gets a “participation” score.

As I argued above, a high GPA is not a "participation" score, it is an achievement score. It just happens that achievement at top universities is generally high across the board.

And frankly, giving everyone an A is a far more desirable outcome than pitting students against each other in an artificially competitive and high-stress environment where the alternative is group study and collaboration.


> It just happens that achievement at top universities is generally high across the board.

Happens at lower universities as well. Turns out the cause isn’t “high achievement” but instead it’s entire generations of students that treat anything lower than an A as a failure and subsequently pressure admin to make the prof back off.


Why should the average score be a 2.0 GPA, especially given that many courses require grade of C or better in pre-req courses?

wut, that is a failing grade in most universities....

Under 2.0 or 2.2 GPA (depending on your school) and you are on academic probation. If you have an academic scholarship, you must maintain at least a 3.0 (B) average.... Which seems fair.

The true average is somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0.


I think that universities can normalize a student's grades using their high school's distribution to level playing field amongst all schools, meaning the grade inflation isn't even working. The UC system is going to have more than enough data to figure out those distributions.

Plenty of schools fiddle with that or just refuse to provide the data.

>Admissions tests, allegedly biased against minority students, will be phased out over five years

Why are we lumping minorities into one group when we know that many minority groups score better than average on standardized tests than the general population. Asian Americans, Nigerian Americans, Jewish people, etc all do very well.

In a world where the wealthy have ever more advantages in college admissions, standardized tests serve to level the playing field. I grew up in a very wealthy town and many kids I knew whose parents spent large sums on SAT tutors never improved their scores because they didn't have the intellectual horsepower.

Just because college administrators and others feel uncomfortable that certain groups continue to do better than others on the SAT is a horrible reason to get rid of the test.


> In a world where the wealthy have ever more advantages in college admissions, standardized tests serve to level the playing field

wish I could upvote this more than once. Rigorous testing and merit based examinations have a reputation for being elitist but they're the exact opposite.

There's some benefit for people coming from higher social classes, but the difference in intellect is much smaller than the difference in networking, cultural attitudes or any other vague criterion that tests are replaced with.

At any country you look that has truly high mobility in education and has managed to produce a broad, national high quality system there's almost a Leninist attitude towards discipline and putting people through examinations. It's much harder for social privilege to be sustained in these institutions than in some kind of essay writing competition. It's also I think the reason for the pretty strong diversity of the military.


It really is amazing how they've leapt across that chasm.

Also good to know that, in California, whites are a racial minority.

I can't wait to see how California designs new tests against racial bias. Will there be different tests for different races? And, their alternative is simply failing to develop a test, after which the methodology will presumably be to have humans make subjective determinations about other humans.


A lot of people mean "underrepresented and underprivileged people", which has a less racial implication than "minority".

In that case, regardless of race, they would look at your parents' income, or the kind of school you went to and the district it was in.


This is very unfortunate. Yes, you can improve your SAT score by studying somewhat, but not massively. The College board has made a free online prep course with Kahn academy that achieves similar results to professional coaching if the student puts in the time. The fact that a student is willing to put in that time should be an indicator that they're likely to be successful in college.

Where more of the abuse is is in parents getting disability diagnoses to get extra time on the test. This same technique can be used to game grades though too.


> Yes, you can improve your SAT score by studying somewhat, but not massively.

This is completely mistaken.

Just taking a couple sample exams will net you almost 100 points as you don't waste time figuring out how to take the test.

Simple prep will net you 200+ points right off the top.

For example, generating a correct answer is almost always way slower on these kinds of tests than quickly removing wrong answers. Knowing where you are on the statistical curve and knowing how the test is catered toward tripping your precise cohort up is extremely important when you have a binary choice remaining.

And that's before you start doing actual systemic improvements like memorizing a couple thousand vocabulary words or drilling basic arithmetic so you don't make simple, stupid mistakes.


> Just taking a couple sample exams will net you almost 100 points as you don't waste time figuring out how to take the test.

You don't go in cold for the SAT. They give you enough free practice resources that anyone serious about taking the test should get those 100 points. Maybe to a practice test every weekend for a month leading up to the test. It's the tutoring where you have to invest a lot more time and money for more marginal gains.


People do go in cold for these tests.

There are many people who come from communities who have sent precisely zero people to elite schools, and they have absolutely no idea how to prepare or how to be a strong candidate despite an abundance of information available on the internet.

Most people assume that straight As and a really good SAT score makes someone Ivy material, and that’s why they are often confused when folks who meet these criteria don’t get in.


> You don't go in cold for the SAT.

A lot of people do.

The mere idea that test taking is a skill which can be honed like any other is an upper middle class social marker. In the case of the SAT, striking out wrong answers is FAR faster than generating correct ones unless your are really good. That's a test taking skill.

My parents were both school teachers and even they didn't know all that much about the SAT--they knew what it was and made sure I ran some practice tests. My guidance counseler (normally a totally useless position at most schools), however, was an old dude who was used to the fact that children of steelworkers had no clue how to prep for college.

He pulled my parents (and others) aside in 9th grade (almost 2 YEARS before you take the SAT for real) and said: "Here is the schedule of tests (PSAT, SAT), etc. and the order in which your child needs to take them. Note that the scholarship score is TWO TIMES THE VERBAL plus the math. Here are the sample test resources your child needs. Here is the vocabulary resource your child needs--that defines your scholarship chances. Your child needs to drill math to not make stupid mistakes. Complete these at an even rate for the next couple years and your child will qualify for most scholarships and have no issue getting admitted to any college below Ivy level. If you really want to go to an Ivy, you need the scores, but we'll need to find you an alumnus to advocate for you in order to boost your chances."

That man created a LOT of first and second generation college graduates.


I am not sure why you are being downvoted (I upvoted you), but your statement is largely correct.

1. 50 points per section (M/V) just for being familiar with the test is common for folks in the middle range of scores — say 400-600 per section. The improvements are less at the extremes.

2. Very basic test taking strategies are worth another 20-30 per section for pretty much everyone.

3. Actually study/review of targeted vocab and math will typically yield another 20-100+.

4. I don’t have as much data on this, but I personally think practicing sitting down on a Saturday morning and taking a high stakes test for x-hours in a sterile environment also increases the score 10 points or so. It reduces anxiety at a minimum.

I’ve seen scores go from 10xx-14xx with a 200+ point improvement in both skills over the course is about two months.


> I am not sure why you are being downvoted (I upvoted you), but your statement is largely correct.

I don't know either, but there is something going on that seems to be time sensitive. Comments that hit quickly after posting sometimes receive significant downvoting while the same comments a couple hours later get significant upvoting.

Something is going on. I just don't know how people benefit from it. Are they trying to create a "history" ahead of the election cycles to whitewash their reputation or something?

I really wish that upvote and downvotes had your username tied to them in a visible way. I couldn't care less if random noname downvotes me if someone important upvotes. And, if someone I respect downvotes me, that's going to certainly get me to think a bit harder.


I'm not convinced more time on tests will actually help somebody who doesn't legitimately have some relevant disability.

Generally tests are structured so that if you know the material, you'll have plenty of time to spare. But if you don't know the material, it's unlikely you'll figure it out even if you're given twice as much time on the exam. It's not like they'll spend that extra hour teaching themselves the trigonometry they neglected to learn in the weeks/months before the exam.


This is not true for the SAT. Having extra time to double check answers or work out harder problems will definitely lead to a better score. Speed is intended to be a factor in the SAT.

Maybe so, it's been many years since I took the SAT and I can't remember much about that experience. But I think with respect to more general academic performance, extra time on tests won't usually help much. In my experience in college, very few of my peers ever used up the full hour or two given for exams. The ones that did seemed to be worrying themselves sick double-guessing themselves, and it never seemed to do them much good.

I had one friend who I suspected of having a bogus disability. He had rich parents and got double-time on exams. But it's a miracle he graduated at all, he seemed to always be on the brink of flunking out. I think that had a lot to do with his video game addiction that stopped him from studying much. He was a reasonably bright guy with a horrible work ethic, and I really don't think the extra time on exams helped him at all.


I have embarrassing personal experience here.

I don't have a learning disability, but I'm a pretty slow reader. I cheated on a section of the SAT by finishing another section with lighter reading and going back to the unfinished one.


I'm not familiar with the SAT, so I might be misunderstanding. But how is returning to an earlier section of the paper after you've completed a later section considered cheating? In all the exams I took over high school/university we could complete the paper in any order we like.

The SAT is divided into sections, with a time limit for each one. If I recall correctly, each one is 10 - 30 minutes, with multiple sections making up reading, writing and math.

The test is also designed with time pressure in mind.


Ah I see, thanks for explaining.

In SAT you're not allowed do this. Each section has fixed time, then pencils down.

I've taken exams in college where the professors intentionally put more questions on the exam than you have time for. They say, "think of each question as an opportunity to increase your score" as opposed to caring about answering them all. The score is then standardized at the end, since most results are below 50% correct. It turns out exams like this usually give a very normally shaped distribution. More time is a massive advantage in these cases.

The examiners did this by mistake in one of the papers in my final exams. I had time to finish two of the three sections. They thought that was fine.

Fortunately, the external examiner didn't, and required them to add points to everyone's marks. I ended up with slightly over 100%.


I guess that such tests are more influenced by general intelligence. That is OK for IQ tests or admission tests, but course exams should test mainly knowledge of subject matter, so they should generally provide enough time.

More time is only an advantage if you get it and others don’t.

The time pressure forces others to not get it. You getting it does depend on your skill to a large degree, but extra time increases your probability of getting it.

That sound you hear is panicked elites, rushing to the "side door" of the UC system in an attempt to figure out how best to influence their kid's probability of admission since paying a few grand for prep sessions (for piece of mind, mostly) on what's a pretty darn good measure of academic aptitude is a waste of everyone's time, now that the test is rendered meaningless ... until California develops their own. I'm sure whatever they come up with will be quite the improvement.

If there was a checklist that you'd go down to help the University system implode "remove testing for academic aptitude" is probably right before "all objective measures of performance are banned". At that point who the hell can justify paying $150k+ for a "degree"?

Edit: pasting this from my below comment.

I think people are misinterpreting my comment as suggesting elite parents would've been against this - far from it. They absolutely wanted this because now it's easier to hide middling academic aptitude from admissions boards at elite schools.

To be clear: Removing this test helps elite parents, and hurts those who can't afford spending money on "summer experiences" abroad or poverty tourism or whatever.


Haha.. I think you have this backwards! If you think money can buy a good SAT score - go make some. Reality? Much easier to pay for a trip to "volunteer" in africa or at the local hospital, get on sports teams etc etc. If you have $$ being head of club X is a cakewalk! I had life changing SAT scores, and while prep helps, that slacker kid isn't getting 1600

A few years ago, I was advising a group of undergraduates at a university and noticed that one was the President of their club. I thought that was cool and met another.. who was also President. Then a third.

It turns out, they called all their members "president" so they could all declare they were a "president of X" on their resume and could talk about leadership. Creative way to game the system for $0.


Words have meaning and that amounts to a lie en masse. Because the word "president" has a specific meaning in the English language, what you describe is not "creative", it's "collusion".

The fact that it works is an indictment of the system, not an indictment of the kids.

CVs of interns who went to private schools always have "president of the X club" on, for much the same reason. I don't know if they have multiple presidents per club, or if they just have masses of clubs, so everyone can be a president. I went to a state school - we didn't have any clubs!

I think we're agreeing here. I don't think money buys a good SAT score (I'm willing to read something that suggests otherwise). Wealthy elites do all of the above poverty tourism as well, but if they can redirect those funds to other "holistic" activities that have nothing to do with academic aptitude it's easier to hide the mediocrity in a "stellar resume".

Money can help you craft a heck of a lot of evidence of leadership.

It's 2400 now btw. There are three sections

No it is not. In 2005 it went from 1600 to 2400. In 2016 it went from 2400 back to 1600.

They got rid of the writing section in 2016, it's back to 1600 (with optional essay)

> That sound you hear is panicked elites, rushing to the "side door" of the UC system in an attempt to figure out how best to influence their kid's probability of admission

It is far easier to influence extracurriculars and grades with money.

I went to an expensive private school. Nobody there (nor their parents) would have opposed eliminating the SAT and replacing it with essays and activities.


Yeah, I think people are misinterpreting my comment as suggesting elite parents would've been against this - far from it. They absolutely wanted this because now it's easier to hide middling academic aptitude from admissions boards at elite schools.

To be clear: Removing this test helps elite parents, and hurts those who can't afford spending money on "summer experiences" abroad or poverty tourism or whatever.


The most direct way to get admitted to an elite university is to have your parents be a major donor. This is not a secret, but explicit.

In the past it HAS been embarrassing if that admit came with a low or super low test score. So no question are the elites happy about this.

https://slate.com/business/2019/09/harvard-admissions-affirm...


Might be why the test is getting eliminated. In my experience people support the SAT in proportion to how well they did on it. Since the test applies a uniform ranking and only the top 20% of takers are proud of their performance, the test does not lend itself to being popular.

I think you're underestimating how much of the inequality has been baked in by Junior year of High School. 16 years of living a life where parents and teachers nurture the students for maximum growth is going to be easily reflected in any way you want to measure aptitude against someone that grew up in a rough environment.

From the article it seems like the UC are going to develop their own test, that will further divide those with resources that can study and prep for multiple tests and those that cannot.

The issues with the diversity in the UC system are rooted in a much deeper level of inequality in society that probably cannot be fixed with these band aids.


Seems totally unrelated, unless you believe that academic aptitude is 100% environmental.

Empirical data shows those from upper middle class families tend to do better than those living near the poverty line. Seems pretty well documented at this point.

So? Empirical data also shows that if you’re 7’ tall you tend to be good at basketball.

Pointing out that people who are doing well now tend to do well in the future is not a useful observation. My original point in this discussion was that removing the tests actually hurts people who are not doing well now, since they have fewer opinions to game the system and having an empirical and objective test of their abilities is the best (and cheapest) opportunity to stand out.


>That sound you hear is panicked elites, rushing to the "side door" of the UC system [...]

Are you sure? Because I think the "elites" or very wealthy will be perfectly fine with removing objectivity. In fact, it helps them.

This hurts working class and poor applicants who don't fit the, shall we say, "background" that admissions offices of elite universities are looking for in 2020.

As time goes on I have less and less respect for credentials from elite institutions because of this.


I've edited my comment because I wasn't clear. I agree with you.

>This hurts working class and poor applicants who don't fit the, shall we say, "background" that admissions offices of elite universities are looking for in 2020.

Exactly this.

The test was a way out, especially for gifted kids from poor backgrounds.


> panicked elites, rushing to the "side door" of the UC system

Speaking as a graduate of the UC system, I doubt "elites" are clamoring to get their kids into it.


Whatever the system is, parents with resources and the awareness to care about gaming the system will game it.

The fact that they made this change without an improved alternative, is particularly troubling.

Such a move would mean I would never have been admitted to university, and I don't think I'm alone.

I graduated third from the bottom of my class from High School and had enormous difficulties with a school system that was adversarial to me throughout my childhood.

In my public elementary school my principal deceived state officials to try to put me into special ed. She was admonished after it was revealed she hid my Iowa standardized test scores from state officials.

In my public high school, my teachers and administrators were given my elementary school file and treated me similarly. I was forbidden from taking AP classes or even taking the exams with self study. After I graduated, my high school refused to release a copy of my file to me, saying they had destroyed it mere weeks after I received my diploma.

Standardized tests were the one opportunity I had to demonstrate I didn't fit my grade point average or what I'm sure would have been derogatory information provided by my public school to any university I applied to.


> In my public elementary school my principal deceived state officials to try to put me into special ed. She was admonished after it was revealed she hid my Iowa standardized test scores from state officials.

I think a student talking about that during the application process would actually be considered for admission.


I would say it's a very naive assumption that admissions will look that deeply into a story of a "low-performing" student saying they have been wronged with no evidence otherwise.

Especially if I did not have a standardized test score, a public school file documenting it, or anything to back up that claim other than recollections of my own and my father's.


This is a great victory for privileged kids that can now rely more than ever on coaching to have the most awesome extra-curriculars and most convincing essays. Truly a brave step to ensure that poor kids can't sneak through the admissions system using their smarts. I expect this will lead to higher donations to the UC system in the future. </s>

Seriously, considering stopping donations this year - I'm a UC alumnus and this makes me sad.


When this subject comes up I always tell the same story.

When I entered university, the head of admissions had been forced to accept the job. He didn't want to be head of admissions (for physics, our subject).

He used the opportunity to do an experiment. Normally you need advanced Maths with a decent grade to get onto a physics degree. He abandoned that and admitted about 20 people without that. He also admitted people with lower grades than usual. Hs basically made offers to everyone who applied. So our first year class was almost twice the size it was meant to be.

He was my personal tutor and asked me to help host admissions lunches for prospective students, so the subject of admissions came up.

He laughed and said he admitted everyone because as far as he was concerned, if you were too dB to pass first year you'd be kicked out then and if not you deserved to be in second year whether you're grades at 18 were good or not.

Of the 20 people without maths, at least 15 failed or transfered to other subjects in year 1. But a few graduated.

So he gave them a chance and they took it.

I know the logistics make it impossible. But I actually think letting everyone who applies in and letting the end of term/semester/year exams decide who stays is much fairer than single tests or one off interviews of lists of (parentally supported) extra circular projects. Imagine if MIT or Harvard said "Everyone is welcome but only 10% of people pass the first year".


Excately what is done in Germany. In the engineering fields, people are admitted left and right (often over thousand per subject) and then they make the first semester exams so hard that only about a third pass.

There is this famous thing professors say to engineering students in the first lecture:

"Everyone please look to your right and to your left. [Statistically speaking] only one of you will be able to graduate in the end."

This is why engineering schools are so tough. I heard from some american universities that the master programs are (if you have gotten over the hurdle to get in) rather "easy" and that they want people to have good grades (because it would look bad if top university students have really bad grades I guess?). Whereas in Germany you have to survive. And especially the good university make it as hard as they can to get the cream of the crop.

(Part of this is related to the change from Diploma to Bachelor/Master because for the Diploma people did not have to care about grades and Universities made exams so hard that people would barely pass them: "4 gewinnt").


The logistics aren't impossible. As far as I'm aware, this is how e.g. the Belgian system works.

In the US, however, I think attrition is a metric that contributes to University rankings. So if you accept people into a course you want people to graduate. In such a scheme, the attrition rates are high.


Depends on the school. I don't think the elite schools like the ivy leagues do this but they are very selective so it's kind of assumed everyone that gets in is smart enough that they should graduate. A lot of the competitive public state schools though absolutely do this.

I went to a public state school and they straight up bell curved the grades for most classes at the TA level so that a certain number of kids were always going to get a D/F both of which are not passing grades and thus requiring the student to either retake it or switch majors.

It was pretty brutal but also highly effective at getting me to really study the material to stay above the curve and pass.


Maybe not all, but some programs in France work this way, too. Grades and exams are certainly considered, but the thresholds are lower, entry classes are larger, and then there is a rather large culling after first term.

Dutch system too, except for studies with a limited number of places (a tool which is unfortunately used more and more often). There are some prerequisites, though: e.g. for physics, you need to have had physics at secondary school, and for bio-medical sciences, chemistry and physics are obligatory (IIRC).

Not such an impossible dream.

I believe this is what they do in France. This was explained to me years ago, so i may have this totally wrong, but in France, if you get a baccalaureate at school, you have the right to attend your local university. There is no admissions process. As a result, there are far too many students. So, the universities make the first-year exams as tough as they need to, and kick out anyone who doesn't pass. Effectively, they use those exams to do admissions, just a bit late.

France also has some strange elite universities, the grandes écoles. They have selective admission. To get into those, you first do khâgne [1], a couple of years of preparatory study, followed by an entrance exam. If you squint, you could see this as letting everyone have a go at the first two years, and then only letting a few progress. To be honest, thinking about the French education system makes my head hurt.

Similar but perhaps more straightforward are the UK foundation years [2], for example, Durham's [3]:

> Foundation Programme courses are fully integrated elements of Durham University degree programmes. Students who successfully reach the progression standard by the end of the foundation year automatically gain entry to year one of their registered programme without further action or application.

The difference being that foundation years are optional - in your example, the people with advanced maths would not have needed the foundation year, but those without would have. Accordingly, they are still quite rare, because in the UK, people pick their A-levels with a view to what subject they want to study at university, and we hate social mobility.

And, of course, in the world of MOOCs and online universities, coming real soon now, it will be easy to admit millions of students to the first year of a course, as long as all the teaching in that year is highly scalable - broadcast lectures, not interactive classes; multiple-choice exams which can be marked by machine; lab work done in VR?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kh%C3%A2gne

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_programme

[3] https://www.dur.ac.uk/dcad/study/foundation/


But even with universal admission, the privileged students will still be favored in the first year of college and have a higher retention rate. After all, they are the ones who can afford private tutoring and test prep in college? /s

Yay, another chance for schools to curate incoming classes based on what they want on a brochure rather than on merit.

I'd hardly call rich parents paying for SAT prep classes a better solution.

Now they can pay directly?

At least with SAT poor students still had a chance if they did well on the test.


So instead you have the luck of the draw of what classes your HS wants to put you in and their crazy grading system?

My HS's GPA wasn't out of 4, for example. Also if you ended up in Mr. Boris's class instead of Mrs. Solomon, you basically automatically lost a whole letter grade.


Or STEM schools (presumably not all) where ‘mastery’ is the tracked objective, achieved when you scored 80% or higher on tests. However, when mastery is translated to standard scoring models/transcripts it’s recorded as 100%.

I doubt the rich kids doing well even moves the needle. That is just being used as cover for "too many" Asians taking up the spots of other minorities.

Private high schools bother me much more then SAT tutors do. I went to $GOOD_UNIVERSITY and it drove me insane how many people had previously gone to a private high school.

The amount of resources they had that I didn't have at my good, public high school was astounding. It was really 'stand out from the crowd' kind of resources that are probably going to become even more important with the removal of SAT/ACT.


Yeah, I also went to $GOOD_UNIVERSITY (in the UK). There were a lot of private high school students, but what stood out to me even more was the level of resourcing and support that the state schools that some students had gone to had given them.

A lot of these "good state-funded schools" pushed people to specific A-levels that looked good to universities, and had coaching on the university interviews and entrance exams (not to mention a much higher standard of teaching). These schools regularly had 100+ students a year get into $GOOD_UNIVERSITY. In contrast to my school that 2 people go in my year and none some years, and and couldn't even work out which entrance exams I needed to be entered for (which they had to do on my behalf).

I don't agree that the SAT is helpful though. These kind of standardised tests measure ability to prep far more than they measure intelligence. In my experience the universities are actually putting quite a lot of effort into making their courses widely accessible (setting lower entrance grades for people from less good schools for example). The problem is really with vastly uneven quality of teaching at the high school level which means that some students really are a lot more prepared for the courses than others (even if that doesn't reflect base level intelligence).


I went to a UK $GOOD_UNIVERSITY, and before that, a "good state-funded school". The sum total of coaching for the interview was one mock interview with the head of chemistry and the deputy head - neither of whom had been to $GOOD_UNIVERSITY themselves, or really knew what the interview would be like. Still, they did their best, and i appreciate that!

Somehow, the school still got ~10% of each year into Oxbridge; i suppose that's the power of selective admissions.


I am curious if it can change now with so many good online educational resources.

SAT prep classes have a small effect size.

I'll absolutely second this. I know kids who went to tons of prep classes for literally years. I had a friend whose parents paid for her to attend SAT prep summer camp for about a month every summer starting in sixth grade. Most of them did fine, but their scores were commensurate with that you'd expect from their report cards. I didn't study much and did very well. The students who did very well were mostly either those who were high-achieving in other respects or those who worked very, very hard. E.g. I know someone who wasn't particularly academically outstanding but got a perfect score with study, practice books only, no expensive classes.

I improved my SAT score 100 points just doing practice tests

How many times did you take it? If it was only twice, how can you be sure how much of that 100 point discrepancy was attributable to practice, and how much of it was essentially down to chance? I doubt you'd get the same score twice if you took it twice without studying in between.

I did the same thing with the GRE many years later. Jumped something like 80 points with a book of Kaplan practice tests. Maybe I got lucky twice :)

I had middling grades and not much extracurricular padding in high school but 99th percentile SAT (no prep other than a practice test). If it weren't for the SAT I would have had worse college options. School felt like it provided nothing more than read and regurg and my background did not promote anything extra. So personally I do not see how this decision evens the playing field.

There are a lot more cases which are the exact opposite. People who have done well in school, extra curriculars and more, but are held back by a meaningless test.

I guess it comes back to if you do a cumulative weighting or have different buckets, especially regarding soft things like extra curricular activities.

Where I went to uni we simply have two different buckets which the schools can change around a bit, but still keeping both. For for my program 66% of students were selected by grade and 34% based on a national test with normalized scoring.

Extra curricular activities or whatever isn't really a thing ever, because it can't be measured. Well, until you are padding your resume for that first job.


I don't have perspective, maybe, but what is exactly holding back someone who does well in school to score higher on a test? It's not like you don't get to retake it if it was a fluke.

If it's the test fee, just allow a retake for free like a gas station smog check offer.

Or, a college can bucket grades and test scores separately and just take whichever is higher.


Extra curriculars don’t mean shit realistically when it comes to predicting performance in college classes.

I grew up fairly poor in a rather mediocre school district. I wonder if I'd have even gotten into college without the SAT (which is the better test, in my opinion). Getting 99%s on that made a difference for me.

I wish UC the best of luck designing another test. That it was a unanimous vote is suspicious to me though... did the college board stop bribing the board of regents? Or did the regents pool together to create a consulting agency that's getting paid out to develop the new test? Or are they really all so pliable or same-minded?

Everyone is focused on this being a means of controlling the selection process, but just look at the money. CollegeBoard had a 2017 revenue of $1.07bn with an astonishing $928m in expenses.

If the new UCSAT displaces the SAT, UC gets to add an extra $100m to profits and $XXX million in 'expenses' to get lost in the UC System. And they get more control over the selection process.


You're assuming they'd charge for the test. Is that documented somewhere? I don't see that in the article.

UC Berkeley alumni here. Don’t know that this is a good thing.

Currently, the UC’s provide a lot of weight to holistic applications. These often favor privileged kids, as they have access to far more opportunities than others. For some, the SAT provided a sort of leveling field in that regard.

Still, it wasn’t perfect, but I fail to see how what they come up with will fix the issue.

Of interest is that all of this is taking place in a state that has banned affirmative action.


>These often favor privileged kids, as they have access to far more opportunities than others.

I think these "holistic" admissions do the opposite. They allow a small group of college administrators to pick which "backgrounds" they want to make up the freshman class each year.


Admissions already works like this. An admissions committee is a bunch of professors that volunteered / were convinced to do admissions, and they consider the academic background, personal background, demographics, essays (sometimes), and most of all - ability to pay. Requiring aid negatively impacts your chances of even getting in.

Yes, but wealthy or not, the UCs limit the number of kits from high achieving schools, usually to around 50 for UCLA and UCB, as examples.

They then accept a certain number for every lower achieving school, due to the 10% requirement (is it still 10% these days?). People then game the system, with the wealthy, moving to a poorly performing school, and the child will be ranked very high in their school, so it is easy to get into the highest rated UCs.

I will also disagree that the SAT is a leveling field. The reason is that in the high achieving schools, the child is sent to private tutors and classes every single year of their lives starting in elementary school. The parents will spend $1k+/month on activities as well as academic classes. That type of knowledge seriously adds up.

For the disadvantaged, they _could_ but the steps are a lot steeper, and most don't make those steps.


>I will also disagree that the SAT is a leveling field. The reason is that in the high achieving schools, the child is sent to private tutors and classes every single year of their lives starting in elementary school. The parents will spend $1k+/month on activities as well as academic classes. That type of knowledge seriously adds up.

This sentiment is littered throughout the comments here. Do we want colleges to admit the brightest, most academically ready 18 year olds? Or to simply admit equal percentages matching race and income levels?

You even seem to admit the student would be better off with those extra classes.

>That type of knowledge seriously adds up.

Personally I'd have no problem with someone smarter than me getting into a college over me... It's not as if you can pay a tutor and then go to bed while they do the work for you, you still have to put in time...


Can we fix the article title to properly capitalize SAT and ACT to be more readable? Particularly since both "sat" and "act" are words.

The connections between this decision, the recent Students for Fair Admission INC v Harvard, and the Varsity Blues scandal are striking. The interesting tid-bit is the Varsity Blues information.

Previously, the price of bribery was unknown. The economics of such a trade, illegal as it was, were murky. With the unmasking of the scheme, including possible angles, and now a known bargaining price point, the whole admissions process has become much clearer.

Covid19, throws a wrench into everything, including college admissions. But these other mechanisms of entry are still in place.

I suspect that the admissions departments are about to get a lot larger. Especially with the ability to use Zoom for everything now.


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