Sunday, April 08, 2001

Northern Kentucky University

By James C. Votruba
President, Northern Kentucky University

        A defining characteristic of American higher education has been its commitment to allocating educational opportunity, not on the basis of income or family positions, but on the basis of merit and egalitarianism. The SAT was developed nearly 100 years ago by the College Board to support these values by providing a national test of academic achievement in core academic subjects such as mathematics, history and literature.

        In the 1930s, the SAT began to shift its emphasis from measuring academic achievement in specific areas to measuring a student's basic aptitude for college. Today, the SAT is considered by many to be a measure of innate intelligence, which it clearly is not. Therein lies the problem.

        The fact is that standardized tests like the SAT are only one of a number of predictors of a student's collegiate success. High school pre-college curriculum grades are a stronger predictor. Add a student's self-concept of academic ability, motivation, focus, maturity, and work ethic and you have a much stronger basis for predicting collegiate success than one standardized measure alone.

        At Northern Kentucky University, we are enrolling record numbers of high-ability students who score in the top five percent on the SAT. However, we also admit large numbers of students who score lower on the SAT but go on to distinguish themselves academically because of persistence, maturity, and motivation. If we relied only on a standardized test, many of these students would never have made it through the door.

        The fact that a large number of them are older, lower-income, first-generation college attendees, and from traditionally under-represented populations, further underscores the problem.

        Let's not throw out standardized testing, but let's keep it in perspective. Considered by itself, the SAT is too narrow and overlooks other powerful predictors of academic success.

        In this regard, I have two recommendations. First, let's refocus the SAT on its original intent, which was to measure academic achievement in core subjects rather than some general formulation of “aptitude.” Second, let's ensure that we evaluate college applicants in a comprehensive and holistic way by including a broad range of measures that have been demonstrated to correlate with collegiate success.


Miami University
- Northern Kentucky University
Thomas More College
University of Cincinnati
Xavier University