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Reviewed by:
  • SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions ed. by Joseph A. Soares
  • Laura C. Amo and Jaekyung Lee
Joseph A. Soares (Ed.). SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions. New York: Teachers College Press, 2011. 226 pp. Paper: $29.95. ISBN-13: 978-0-8077-5262-3.

SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions, edited by Joseph Soares, compiles 12 separate chapters to collectively make a case against the use of traditional standardized tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Tests for college admissions and to build support for test-optional policies and alternative testing models. SAT Wars can be useful for both researchers and administrators in higher education with interests in fairness and diversity issues in undergraduate admissions testing.

This book makes clear that, despite mounting evidence that the SAT is a poor predictor of college success, it remains a major social, cultural, and political force in the world of U.S. higher education. Overall, SAT Wars delivers a much-needed critical examination of the (a) purpose and history of the SAT, (b) alternative forms of testing and findings of the SAT’s insignificant correlation with college success, and (c) effects of existing test-optional policies on several different outcomes.

The first section of the book, “Overview and History of Admissions and Testing,” introduces the problems plaguing higher education related to test-based admissions. Many researchers criticize the SAT verbal and math tests for adding little beyond the high school record and provide countering evidence in favor of subject-based achievement tests. Authors also suggest that test-optional policies would likely better serve traditionally underprivileged students.

The second section, “New Techniques, Removing Test Bias, and Institutional Case Studies,” high-lights broader approaches to evaluating students, illustrates existing bias in the SAT, and also looks at the reports of three different institutions that have implemented test-optional policies. Largely echoing the first section, the second section clearly illustrates that high school GPA is the best predictor of college success and that the SAT has little to no effect across different types of colleges and universities and different academic majors.

The third section, “Evaluations of Test-Optional Policies,” finalizes the case for test-optional paths toward greater educational equity. This section describes the benefits to a college or university of going test-optional and a road map for doing so, reflections on the transition from a test-based to a test-optional policy from a college administrator at Wake Forest University, and results from a simulation of the effects of test-optional policies on diversity outcomes.

Several cross-cutting themes run throughout the book. The first is that the single best predictor of college success is the high school record. The second is that the SAT exacerbates social and cognitive stratification in our society; the SAT was created as a test to equalize opportunity for all students, yet now serves as a test that works in favor of the privileged. The third theme is that the SAT has strong roots and that abolishing these types of tests in college admissions will take time and cultural change. The fourth theme is a lack of convergence on what these types of tests are supposed to be measuring; if experts cannot agree on the definition of intelligence, it is impossible to develop a valid measure of it. The fifth and final theme is that test-optional policies result in increased student diversity and encourage greater emphasis on the rigor of the high school curriculum and alternative measurements of ability.

However, the book fails to adequately address several issues and some issues are completely overlooked. The discussions are focused on four-year [End Page 405] colleges (moreover, schools that are elite or competitive). SAT Wars offers no perspective on community college students. Many students from disadvantaged backgrounds may opt for a two-year college and may become as successful as graduates from four-year schools.

The types of outcomes explored show some oversights. While the SAT may not predict GPA, does it predict retention in college, degree completion rates, or occupational success? These questions remain unanswered. The book also fails to deal with international students. As the diversity...