Recruit & Retain (Siena College)

SAT Scores and Academic Outcomes

For nearly a century, the SAT has served as one of the most prevalent hurdles standing between high school students and a college acceptance letter. For the past several years, however, there has been considerable debate within higher education over the value of standardized test scores as predictors of academic success in college.

Several research studies have suggested that SAT scores may not effectively forecast achievement at the undergraduate level. Hundreds of colleges and universities have stopped requiring applicants to submit scores from standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, and after careful consideration and study, Siena College will join the list of institutions embracing this trend.

Evaluating the Individual

Beginning with students enrolling in the fall of 2016, Siena College, in Albany, NY, will no longer require most prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores. Instead, the Office of Admissions will evaluate a prospective student’s academic performance in each course, his or her high school GPA, reported rank and strength of curriculum. This method will attract a broader group of high-achieving, qualified students that are prepared for success here on campus, and beyond.

This wasn’t a decision made hastily for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon. Using a cohort of new students who entered Siena between fall 2006 and fall 2009, we evaluated the joint contribution of SAT scores and high school GPA. More importantly, we wanted to determine the unique contributions of both factors when looking at key academic outcomes, cumulative GPA at Siena, fall-to-fall retention rates and graduation rates.

The research showed that high school GPA was a more powerful predictor of cumulative GPA at Siena than SAT scores. Moreover, compared to high school GPA alone, SAT scores did not provide any significant improvement in predicting fall-to-fall retention or graduation rates. When weighing all of these factors, it was obvious that high school GPA was a much more powerful predictor of all three of our outcome measures than SAT scores.

Having said that, the SAT numbers are still far from completely useless. Test scores do provide some predictive power for cumulative GPA at Siena. This is important to acknowledge, because we not only want students to graduate, but we want them to get there with a high level of academic success.

Secondly, we must also remember that our research was conducted attempting to predict outcomes among a group of students. SAT scores should not be totally discredited when reviewing the admission portfolio of individual students. SAT scores may still provide useful information in the advising process, which we find vital to ensuring student success and retention.

Predicting Success

The main thrust of our findings is not that the SAT is an ineffective predictor of retention or graduation rates. In isolation, it is still very effective for both. But when weighed along with high school GPA, the unique contribution of SAT scores washes out.

In situations where high school GPA may be suspect or unavailable, such as with home-schooled or international applicants, SAT scores may be the best information available. This is why we will still ask some prospects to submit their standardized test scores, if the information to make an educated admissions decision cannot be provided any other way.

Taking a Different Approach

SAT scores are far from useless, but when weighed alongside high school GPA, they add nothing to the equation, which ultimately just creates additional work for the student and admissions team with no discernible difference in the end result.

By taking a more holistic and personalized approach to the admissions process, Siena College will be able to enroll well-prepared students who will make a positive impact on their classmates and the college community while earning an education that will prepare them for career success and fulfilling lives.

SAT scores have carried the torch for college preparedness for decades. The problem is not that their torch has been extinguished in recent years, but simply that others have also been lit.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Lee Allard, Ph.D., is director of Institutional Research at Siena College (www.siena.edu).

Ned Jones is vice president for Enrollment Management at Siena College (www.siena.edu).

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