Students Don’t Have to Ace SAT’s to Get Into Great Colleges

One of the big obstacles to school innovation I have found is the “dam” of college admissions and college entrance exams that focus on lower-order knowledge acquisition and regurgitation. Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that if a good school de-emphasizes AP’s and college test prep and emphasizes deep, rigorous, student-centered, project-focused learning, their students will be attractive to the most competitive colleges and universities.  But where are the data? How do we answer parents who say “We know the processes of the past have worked to get our kids admitted to good colleges, so why do you want to mess with it?”

There is no one answer. We can cite college presidents and VP of Admissions who tell us that they want to admit creative, deep-thinking young people, but those same colleges still rely heavily on entrance exams, inflated grade records, and AP’s, right?

Twitter colleague Shelley Krause shared this compilation of actual SAT scores in the 25th-75th percentile range at many well-known and selective colleges and universities. Many of their students  are admitted with SAT’s in the 1000-1100 range (1800 scale); this are not low, but neither are they out of reach.

Will this report answer the concerns of parents? Not by itself.  But there is plenty of evidence, including Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath about which I wrote last spring, that there is a broad tier of US colleges and universities that are highly appropriate for, and available to, a range of high school graduates, not just the big name “most selective” schools. We are educators; we are in the business of educating people. We can rail against the college admissions “dam”, and blame “them” for making us focus on objective testing and narrow courses.  Or we can stand up, as many schools already have, and teach our communities that over-concern about college entrance tests and a focus on a small group of college choices is unhealthy for our students and their futures.

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