A letter from a reader: The SAT predicts freshman grades, but then what?

March 19, 2008:

Professor Howard Wainer *68 states the truth about the SAT (Letters, Nov. 7): It was established to predict grades in freshman courses -- period. It does that pretty well. After 10 years at ETS, I was persuaded that a so-called validity study can show the SAT as a better predictor of freshman grades than grade-point average. But so many forget that single purpose: predict freshman grades.

Then what? Without getting into various processes used by colleges to convert SAT scores (usually multiple and mixed with ACT scores) into a grading system, we need to consider possible action when freshman year ends. My experience, intellect, and senses shout, "Students gain from experience, peers, faculty, and place as they develop passions and satisfactions, especially as they embrace departmental work. They also shine in that rainbow of activities in which they participate and perhaps excel, gaining focus and discipline, motivation to 'ace' their academics."

So how important are freshman grades as a predictor of later academic -- or often other -- accomplishments? Freshman grades fall away in the four-year academic and personal development -- on campus, sure, but even more in society, where so many Princetonians contribute so much.

A caution: ETS test principles call for the use of a test only once, and only for its designated purpose, yet ETS keeps locked files of all test scores after they have served their purpose. That's a dangerous hoard of information, with no use. Wait until someone breaks in and publishes scores of anyone on the multitude of tests.

Cheerfully, applauding Professor Wainer, and cheering what Arnold K. Mytelka '58 in the following letter calls "Princeton's thoughtful policy of diversifying its student body," I apologize for maintaining a five-decade watch over all selection processes -- school, job, voting, et al. Alas, if only more institutions would search for, embrace, and educate a lower and lower economic, broader geographic, and more mixed social class of students.

Princeton director of admission, 1965-71, admissions associate, 1963-65
Bloomington, Minn.

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