- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

About 4,400 students of the college-bound class of 2006 hunkered down to complete and submit their applications in December, little suspecting that the process would be complicated by faulty SAT scores.

In March, college admissions departments and hopeful applicants received a troubling notice from the College Board, announcing that scores on the October 2005 SAT had been miscalculated.

Scoring errors reportedly ranged from 40 points to 450 points, and some students were awarded more points than they had earned. Although soggy weather was blamed for grading malfunctions, the debacle has undoubtedly caused many colleges to turn a skeptical eye at the test that has long played a key role in admissions decisions.

In addition to increased apprehension over the validity of scores, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 53 percent of U.S. colleges reported receiving more early applications last year than in 2004, marking the most competitive season yet.

Which raises the question: Is relying on scores from the SAT-I, the standard reasoning test, really enough to distinguish eligible applicants?

About a quarter of all colleges nationwide no longer require standardized-test scores from their applicants, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. This might indicate a trend toward a more holistic approach to the standard college-admissions process.

“SAT-I’s provide some value in allowing admissions offices to compare students from different high schools,” says Sharon Herzberger, president of Whittier College in California. “But they have limited usefulness in predicting first-year grades and even lower utility in predicting upper-class grades.”

The value of standardized testing in discerning whether applicants have the academic potential to succeed is limited, say critics, forcing many institutions to seek alternative methods in determining applicant eligibility.

Many college admission departments are encouraging — or, at competitive schools, requiring — applicants to demonstrate subject mastery through more content-specific SAT-II (subject tests) and ACT assessment, which may provide keener insight into levels of subject knowledge and interest.

“Subject tests and specialized portfolios allow us to get a picture of an applicant’s particular talents and passions,” Mrs. Herzberger says.

Subject tests “will continue to be useful in any holistic admissions process,” she said.

Many educators view the SAT-I as a burden on students, forcing them to focus on test preparation rather than their education.

Last year, the Princeton Reviews’s test-preparation services reported a 16.8 percent increase in revenue, as more parents enroll their children in prep courses in an effort to make them stand out among growing numbers of applicants to selective colleges.

Meanwhile, the graduating high-school class of 2007 should brace themselves for another record-breaking year in the world of college admissions.

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