Columbia Dropping the SAT/ACT

Freddie deDoer and Rob K. Henderson weigh in on Columbia dropping the SATs.

Columbia says they are not factoring SATs in admissions, but applicants are allowed to submit scores anyway. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference this makes: will summitting scores help even if it’s not a factor? If so, then it either proves that high-scoring applicants have other attributes that confer an advantage, which would not be a surprise, or that Columbia is not actually ignoring scores. Not submitting a score could still be an implicit admission of having scored poorly; there is no reason to not submit a score if you did well.

Freddie and Rob note that standardized testing benefits ‘brilliant but lazy’ students, who may get low GPAs but also crush the SATs. If the goal of elite colleges is to create future leaders in business, journalism, politics, etc. that will bring prestige to the institution, then probably filtering also for conscientiousness is expected, beyond just scores.

Regarding Mr. Henderson, I don’t see how opposing the SATs is a luxury belief. A luxury implies that it’s hard to obtain and rare/uncommon, yet this is a view that is widely held, and it’s not like there is any barrier to believing in something, unlike having enough money to buy a luxury car. Possessing a belief is as easy as thinking about it. It’s more like a trendy belief or a fashionable one than a luxury one.

Mr. deBoer argues that this move hurts poor, brilliant black kids:

l. Those kids are the ones the SAT rewards. So why not use both? And, for the record, the people who stand to gain the most from getting rid of the SAT are not poor Black kids but affluent white kids whose parents have the sway in the local school district they need to lean on teachers and get the grades they want for their children.

You guys aren’t creating some level playing field where the rich kids won’t get ahead. Instead, you’ll be disadvantaging the brilliant but poor Black kid from a low-income school who used the SAT as the way to announce themselves. And you’re giving a hand to the idiot sons of privilege whose tony private academies will ensure they get a good GPA but who could never crack the SAT.

The number of poor, brilliant black inner-city kids being denied access to elite colleges on purely meritocratic grounds is zero. Even the wealthiest of black children score worse on the the SATs compared to the poorest of whites. And given that blacks are just 13% of the US population, in addition to a 10 point lower mean IQ (don’t shoot the messenger) for blacks, implies a vanishingly small number of blacks are somehow going to be passed up in favor of unqualified whites for elite college admissions. Also, top colleges are known for lowering or relaxing standards in favor of certain underrepresented minorities, anyway (what is commonly called affirmative action), so it’s not like being brilliant is even required.

As commenters noted, it’s much more likely that qualified, upper-middle-class Asians are at risk of being passed up by dropping the SATs, not blacks or poor inner-city kids.

As for protecting the rich, I don’t agree with this explanation. Why would middle-aged, single, or childless pundits or journalists whose kids are grown up and not applying to colleges, care about protecting the status of the progeny of the elite? What’s in if for them? It’s not like left-wing journalists have ever been sympathetic to the rich, even in the same ideology/party. It’s evident that the left-wing intelligentsia has a low opinion, overall, of the moneyed democratic elite, like Michael Bloomberg, Gavin Newsom, or ‘the Clintons’. Most of the left in 2016 and 2020 supported Bernie Sanders, not Hillary or Biden, who both embodied the ‘elite establishment’, until after the primaries.

I think framing it as motivated by envy makes more sense:

There’s a lot of people in the media who went to Bates when they thought they were entitled to go to Columbia, they think the SAT is why, and they never got over it. And I believe that this resentment plays a large role in the remarkably unbalanced coverage we’ve had of the SAT issue. I really do.

Opposition to standardized testing is downstream from opposing IQ testing, which harkens back to the ‘Bell Curve’ wars of the ’90s. It has nothing to do with protecting rich kids and more to do with eroding individual quantifiers and signifiers of intellectual value and worth. As Freddie notes, GPAs, in terms of filtering, are much more crude and are of lower predictive value for outlier talent compared to the SATs, and more amenable to coaching/environment.