The Collegeboard (that great organization that brings you the SAT, among other things) released a study of their new writing section, and, SURPRISE, found it to be very useful. There’s a very balanced article on the topic in today’s Inside Higher Education e-newsletter.
The College board found the new test, with the more expensive writing test that makes the whole thing a lot longer has the same predictive value as the old test. It’s no better, mind you, but at least no worse. They admit, however, that the test is far worse at predicting performance than high school academic records, and that there continue to be the same problematic disparities (which various researchers peg to gender, race, income, etc.) even among students that perform equally well in college. In other words, if you’re not a white, male, upper-middle class test taker, there’s a good chance your score on the SAT underestimates your performance in college.
What they don’t mention, and I doubt they’ll study, is whether adding the test improved (or decreased) the ability to predict college performance when used WITH high school record. That’s how all colleges use the SAT anyhow, and the only way that it’s really useful. I agree with the MIT professor cited in the article – I think the era of timed writing drills is long over and poorly prepares students for what they need to do in graduate school and the workforce. Since Mason, MIT, and a handful of others that have (shameless plug) the highest rated Writing Across the Curriculum Programs in the nation (no really, US News rates them – no idea how they can do that), I suspect at those schools, if not all, the writing test will actually decrease predictive ability when sued with college grades.
Also, the Collegeboard wisely only compared the new test to the old test. They didn’t do a more rational comparison – of using just the current math and English sections compared to using them with the writing section. That’s because they want to avoid any ammunition for ACT, which quite rationally offers the writing test as an OPTION. Maybe the SAT would make a lot less money if they did that! Nah – that would be a really bad reason to force all students to take the writing section. Right?
Did I mention Mason is the largest institution in the United States with a score optional admissions policy? I thought I might have. Be seeing you.