Could they help UK Universities select students more fairly?
Universities are keen to ensure that they have a clear idea of a students potential in deciding admissions and not simply to rely on exam results. Measuring potential is not easy and cant really be done by looking at a students application (UCAS) form, contrary to the claims made by some admissions tutors.
They have looked across the Atlantic for inspiration looking in particular at the SAT aptitude test (the SAT Reasoning TestTM) as a tool in the selection of candidates for admission to higher education (HE) either as a standalone tool or one used in conjunction with GCSEs and AS/A2 levels to determine admissions.
SAT are multiple-choice tests required for admission by several top US universities (although they are not the only test available). It is sometime assumed that SATs are similar to GCSEs or A levels . They are not. They are basically IQ tests designed to measure potential rather than to measure what you have learned at school.
So if SAT tests are supposed to measure potential, do they do this effectively? There is much debate about this. However, given that a cottage industry has developed in tutoring students to help them pass the SAT there are grounds for doubting that the tests truly measure potential. SAT questions are quite particular and the skills to answer them are not often taught in schools. Hence the cottage industry ,selling textbooks and extra tuition Students wanting to take SATs must usually register independently, pay for the test and travel to an SAT test centre. For rural students, the nearest location may be some distance And then there is the problem of revising. Poorer students inevitably are disadvantaged.
In the UK, back in 2005, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was commissioned to evaluate the potential value of using an the SAT Reasoning TestTM as an additional tool in the selection of candidates for admission to higher education (HE). This five-year study was co-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS), the NFER, the Sutton Trust and the College Board. The primary aim of the study was to examine whether the addition of the SAT® alongside A levels is better able to predict HE participation and outcomes than A levels alone. And whether it might help identify students with the potential to benefit from higher education whose ability is not adequately reflected in their prior attainment.
The study found that of the prior attainment measures, average A level points score is the best predictor of HE participation and degree class, followed by average GCSE points score. The inclusion of GCSE information adds usefully to the predictive power of A levels. In the absence of other data, the SAT® has some predictive power but it does not add any additional information, over and above that of GCSEs and A levels (or GCSEs alone), at a significantly useful level. But could the SAT® identify economically or educationally disadvantaged students with the potential to benefit from HE whose ability is not adequately reflected in their A level results; and could the SAT® distinguish helpfully between the most able applicants who get straight A grades at A level.
The study also found ‘no evidence that the SAT® provides sufficient information to identify students with the potential to benefit from higher education whose ability is not adequately reflected in their prior attainment.’
In addition ‘the SAT® does not distinguish helpfully between the most able applicants who get three or more A grades at A level. The SAT® Reading and Writing components do add some predictive power for some classes of degree at highly selective universities, but add very little beyond the information provided by prior attainment, in particular prior attainment at GCSE.’
So it is pretty safe to conclude that the SAT is no panacea for measuring student potential and would have limited utility for Higher Education Institutions in this country to help them design a fairer admissions process that fully takes into account an applicants potential.
Use of an aptitude test in university entrance: a validity study Final Report-3 December 2010- NFER-Sutton Trust