Achievement Versus Aptitude in College Admissions
Students should be selected on the basis of their demonstrated success in learning, not some ill-defined notion of aptitude.
Every year, more than a million high school students stake their futures on the nation’s most widely used admissions test, the SAT I. Long viewed as the gold standard for ensuring student quality, the SAT I has also been considered a great equalizer in U.S. higher education. Unlike achievement tests such as the SAT II, which assess mastery of specific subjects, the SAT I is an aptitude test that focuses on measuring verbal and mathematical abilities independent of specific courses or high school curricula. It is therefore a valuable tool, the argument goes, for correcting the effects of grade inflation and the wildly varying quality of U.S. high schools. And it presumably offers a way of identifying talented students who otherwise might not meet traditional admissions criteria, especially high-potential students in low-performing high schools.
In February 2001, at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education (ACE), I delivered an address questioning the conventional wisdom about the SAT I and announced that I had asked the Academic Senate of the University of California (UC) to consider eliminating it as a requirement for admission to UC. I was unprepared for the intense public reaction to my remarks. The day before I was scheduled to deliver them, I went to the lobby of my hotel to get a copy of the Washington Post. I was astounded to find myself and excerpts from the speech on the front page; an early version had been leaked to the press. To my further astonishment, an even more detailed story appeared on the front page of the New York Times.