The SAT Is the Fairest Way to Measure How Well an Individual Student Will Do in College
University of California president Richard C. Atkinson wants to scrap the SAT and replace it with a "holistic" approach to the selection of college applicants. No doubt he hopes that this will become a nationwide trend. Dr. Atkinson's proposal has been described as a "bold action." It is not; it is a destructive and shortsighted action that will promote racism and severely undermine the integrity of the university admissions process.
Consider some well-established facts:
- The SAT is the single best predictor of college grades, of how well someone will do in college. Although Dr. Atkinson prefers the use of achievement tests that show knowledge of particular content areas such as history or biology, achievement tests are not as useful for admission decisions as the SAT, because they are heavily influenced by how much course work the student has had on a given subject, whereas the SAT measures aptitude for learning across many different types of subject matter.
- The SAT is a better predictor than high school grades (although these grades do add useful additional information), because different high schools have different grading standards (work that earns an A at one school might only earn a C at another). The SAT is more objective because every person takes the same test and every test is scored the same way.
- The SAT is not biased against minorities; it predicts college performance equally well for all groups (male, female, white, black, Mexican-American, etc.). (In fact, the SAT slightly overpredicts performance for minorities, giving them a small advantage in selection.)
Given this, one would assume that Dr. Atkinson would want to retain the SAT as a core selection device, no matter what additional factors might be used to assess UC applicants. But Dr. Atkinson wants to eliminate it. Why?
Allegedly, it is to eliminate racism. It is true that even though the SAT predicts college performance equally well for all groups, all groups, on the average, do not score equally well on the SAT. The average SAT score for Asians is higher than the average score for whites, which is higher than the average score for non-Asian minorities. (We do not know the root causes of these differences; nor can we eliminate them by denying they exist.) This means that the college population does not necessarily mirror the exact percentage of each group in society at large. But this is not evidence of racism.
There are dozens of reasons why any given group can be "over-" or "underrepresented" in college populations. Nor is proportionality to be found elsewhere. For example, blacks are "overrepresented" in the NBA. Does this mean that NBA general managers and coaches are anti-white racists--or is it just that they want the best players, many of whom happen to be black?
Selecting students--or basketball players--based on aptitude and proven ability does not represent racism but individualism. The SAT, for example, places no weight whatever on what the student's race, gender or ethnic group is. It only asks the question: what can you do? It is race-blind, gender-blind, age-blind, sexual orientation-blind, religion-blind, politics-blind, and country of national origin-blind.
The real reason Dr. Atkinson wants to eliminate the SAT is because it is not racist. He wants to use subjective--including racial--criteria in student selection. This is the real meaning of the term "holistic."
The root cause of racism is collectivism. Collectivism means viewing people as interchangeable units of a group. For the collectivist the individual is not really "real," but only an insignificant and interchangeable part of a superorganism (the gender, the race, the party, the nation). For the collectivist only group statistics count, because what any given individual does is not important.
The racial collectivist ignores the self-made qualities of a person (character, ambition, knowledge, skill) and considers only genetic factors to be important. To quote Ayn Rand: "Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage . . . . Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged not by his own character and actions, but by characteristics and actions of a collective of ancestors."
If we really want to eliminate racism in this country, we must replace it with individualism. In the realm of college admissions, this means judging the ability and potential of each individual student for college work and admitting the best qualified, regardless of what racial group he or she might belong to. The SAT is a valuable tool for this purpose and, rather than being eliminated, should be retained at all costs.
Edwin A. Locke, a professor of management at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.