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Do Standardized Tests Really Predict Student Success?

The one conclusion I’ve drawn about standardized testing over the last several years is clear: no one really likes it. Students feel pressure to score well to get into the college they desire most; educators feel the pressure to ensure students do well, so they can get school funding; and parents feel the pressure because they believe high scores will lead to scholarship possibilities. The stakes are high for everyone.

Today, I’d like to discuss our assumptions about ACT and SAT testing.

For years, these tests have been filters to screen potential college students. A high SAT score, for instance, gave a higher probability for a student to get “accepted” into that elite school they admire. But is the SAT and ACT really a good vetting process for students? Are we testing the right subjects in the right way? Do the tests genuinely predict success for graduates?

Three researchers recently published the results from 28 colleges that made these tests optional for students. Eric Hoover, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, writes: “Their report, refreshingly light on sweeping statements, concludes that, yes, some institutions that have stopped requiring the ACT or the SAT have increased the diversity of their incoming classes. The report also confirms what many admissions officials have long known: High-school grades matter most in predicting success in college”—not SAT or ACT scores.

Three Shifts Away from Past Assumptions About Student Success

The truth is, students, educators and parents are all questioning what really matters for young people to be career ready. Maybe this is a good thing. Let me offer three shifts I’ve observed as trends in high school students today:

1. Students have begun to look at colleges that don’t require SAT or ACT scores.

For years, Millennials and their parents just assumed a student had to take the test and do well to get into a good school. Today, I see more students from Generation Z looking at schools that don’t require them. People are more pragmatic and don’t assume the current “system” is always right. They look at results and see there are better scorecards that predict future success in school.

2. Students now question if a four-year institution is even right for them.

More and more, students are ignoring the assumption that you have to graduate from a liberal arts university to get a good job. Many of the job markets that are hungry to hire young professionals care less about a college background and more about skill training. Technical schools for specific trades now look very attractive and more relevant to young adults. Once again, no SAT test required.

3. Students are less likely to take on student loan debt.

Generation Z students and their parents are acting more like “customers” when it comes to post-secondary education. By this I mean they weigh out all the options and often stay in the “driver’s seat” as a customer would before “buying” an education. They are more apt to avoid debt than Millennials and their parents were. If they don’t see a good R.O.I. (Return On Investment) from a school, they’ll look elsewhere.

Izzy (short for Israel) is a 19-year-old African-American male who works at a deli near our home. He is a case study of this new profile of student. He is passionate about moving forward in his career, but he is not attending a college. He told my wife the deli job is only a way to make money for him to invest, which he considers his “real job.” He is hacking his way through his early adult life and feels that merely taking more classes (after high school) won’t get him to where he wants to go. He’s found mentors who will coach him and open digital courses he can take on his terms. He is mixing and matching pieces of the puzzle to make it work for him. His growth menu is “a la carte” instead of the usual prescribed “combo.” You might say he is attending the “school of hard knocks.”

History tells us this usually turns out to be a great preparation for the future.


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Do Standardized Tests Really Predict Student Success?