Broaddus discusses role of standardized tests in college admissions

A panel presented TED-talk style speeches on of free speech in the media followed by a discussion. FILE PHOTO / THE FLAT HAT

Although they are dreaded by high school juniors and seniors, standardized tests are an essential part of the college application process. Friday, Dean of Admissions Henry Broaddus spoke to interested students about the role of standardized tests in the admissions process.

“We’re not filtering applicants by SAT scores,” Broaddus said. “A lot of students think you probably just line up the pool — you know, one to number 13668 — last year, and then you draw a line somewhere. We’re not doing that; we’re recognizing the limitations of the SAT, but I think it still has some value if used responsibly. … All that the SAT is intended to predict is freshman year GPA.”

Broaddus described the original intention of the SAT as an attempt to allow all students a chance of acceptance at premier universities regardless of where they attended high school.

“The intention behind the SAT was to break apart the old feeder school model by which college admissions used to work where we’d say, ‘oh, well you go to Deerfield so we know you’re smart and capable, but [if] you’re out at a rural school, we don’t [know this], so we’re going to deny you,” Broaddus said. “It’s like a Jeffersonian idea that this test was going to level the playing field. … Now, of course, it’s actually arguably done the exact opposite because of the way that test prep and your family resources that [allow you] to try [to] take [the SAT] multiple times and seek test prep are able to kind of game this system. It’s certainly not achieved that dream, but the intent behind it is still a noble one.”

Broaddus noted the beneficial addition of the ACT to the accepted standardized test for college admittance, stating that the ACT leveled the playing field of standardized test options by eliminating the SAT monopoly. According to the College Board, 36 percent of students applying to the College submit ACT scores.

Following students, inquiries about the differences between the SAT and ACT, Broaddus described the SAT as a test that created distribution in score ranges and is more associated with test preparation, citing the historical inclusion of analogies, which are not usually taught in school, on the test. In contrast, Broaddus described the ACT as an achievement test with a content oriented focus rather than a psychometric exam.

Broaddus estimated that about 10 percent of applicants to the College only submitted ACT scores. Broaddus believes this is due to students taking both tests and finding they did better on the ACT than the SAT when comparing the two, although the tests operate on different scales.

Students inquired about the possibility of the College of William and Mary becoming a test optional institution.

“I’m pretty cynical about test-optional, because as soon as you go test optional, [average] test scores go up,” Broaddus said.

Broaddus explained that these test-optional statistics might be misleading and discussed the need to report accurate figures to the College Board and other institutions, citing the current scandal surrounding George Washington University. According to the Washington Post, GWU claimed 78 percent of its students had graduated from the top 10 percent of their high school class when in actuality only 58 percent had done so. Broaddus also noted Claremont-McKenna and Emory College’s reports of false student and applicant data.


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