- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — A study of Maryland’s four-year colleges and universities has concluded that SAT scores, already dropped by one state university as a requirement for admission, can be used to accurately predict retention and graduation rates.

The report, prepared for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, looked at the percentage of undergraduates who started college in 1999 and graduated within six years. It also examined second-year retention rates of students who started at universities in 2004.

“The higher the SAT scores of students, the greater the likelihood that they not only returned for a second year of study but eventually earned a baccalaureate,” the report states.

Among students whose combined math and verbal SATs were 1100 or higher, 74 percent earned a degree within six years, compared with 57 percent of those with scores between 800 and 1099, and 44 percent of those scoring less than 800.

The students took the SATs before the addition of a writing test, meaning 1600 was the highest possible score.

Salisbury University last month became the first state school to allow prospective freshmen with high grade point averages not to submit SAT scores with their applications. The University of Baltimore, Bowie State University and Frostburg State University have said they also are considering test-optional policies.

Salisbury officials agreed the SAT was a good predictor of college success but said more could be learned from high school grades and the rigor of a high school curriculum, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“We never negated the value of the SAT as one tool in the toolbox,” said Ellen Neufeldt, Salisbury’s vice president of student affairs.

Salisbury’s step away from the SAT is part of a national trend. The test is frequently criticized as unfair, particularly to students with lower family incomes.

The Maryland analysis does not weaken such arguments, said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an advocacy group critical of the way standardized tests are used.

“It’s well known and nobody has ever denied that there is a relationship between SAT scores and persistence, on average,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “Indeed, there is the same relationship with retention and outcomes based on grades and based on family income. The point is that SAT scores add little useful information, and in some cases contradictory information.”

A spokeswoman for the College Board, the New York-based nonprofit that administers the test, said universities value the SAT because it is a standard measure, unlike high school grades.

The ostensible purpose of the study was not to test the test. Instead, the report used SAT scores to fairly evaluate all of Maryland’s public colleges.

The study found that even when controlling for variance in SAT scores, each of the state’s four historically black public universities is less effective in producing college graduates than every one of the state’s other public colleges.

Michael Keller, the commission’s research director and author of the report, said he was surprised by that result.

But state Secretary of Higher Education Calvin W. Burnett and commission Chairman Kevin O’Keefe said they would not be comfortable drawing conclusions until they took into consideration additional variables such as students’ family income and high school grade averages.

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