Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 22, 2001

Pitt has no plans to abandon SAT requirement

The president of the University of California (UC) recently recommended that the system stop requiring high school students to take the math and verbal Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) to gain admission.

Richard C. Atkinson questioned whether the tests accurately predict students' ability in college, and noted that the SAT is widely viewed as being biased against minorities. The SAT, he said, is distorting educational priorities by pressuring students, parents and teachers to compete for high scores at any cost — "the educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race," according to Atkinson.

The University of Pittsburgh doesn't plan to drop the SAT as one of the measurements it considers in admitting students, said two Pitt administrators involved in the admissions process here.

But if California regents and faculty accept Atkinson's recommendation to eliminate the math and verbal SAT by fall 2003, the action is likely to reverberate across the country, they agreed.

"It would be interesting if only because the University of California is such a large public system," with 170,000 students, said Betsy Porter, Pitt director of Admissions and Financial Aid. "If California drops the SAT, other state systems probably would enter into discussions about whether to follow."

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Jack Daniel, who chairs Pitt's Enrollment Management Committee, said that if the University of California stops requiring the math and verbal SAT he would watch how admissions processes evolve at system schools, particularly at the elite Berkeley and UCLA campuses. "From an enrollment management point of view, I would keep in touch with people at those institutions to monitor how they make their admissions decisions. We should always be exploring what factors make the best sense for the University of Pittsburgh in predicting students' academic success."

Daniel added, "I would also watch how other AAU [Association of American Universities] institutions respond." Among the AAU's 62 members are Pitt and six UC campuses.

Without dismissing Atkin-son's proposal, made in a speech at the American Council on Education's annual meeting on Feb. 18, Porter said: "Given that the University of California is not considered even remotely a competitor of the University of Pittsburgh, what they do with regard to the SAT probably wouldn't have much impact here. I'm not aware of any discussion at Pitt to eliminate standardized testing."

Pitt requires prospective students to take either the math and verbal SAT or the ACT (American College Test). Porter said: "We began giving students the option of taking the ACT as a way of appealing to applicants across the country. In some states, it's the preferred test."

Whether they're spelled SAT or ACT, standardized tests have never been Pitt's sole, or even primary, consideration in admitting students, according to Porter and Daniel.

Nor does Pitt, like some schools, reject students simply because their test scores fall below an institutional minimum, the administrators said.

In addition to considering SAT or ACT scores, Pitt takes into account high school grades and class rank, leadership and community service activities, and optional essays and letters of reference, combining that information with the University's knowledge of particular high schools and their curricula.

"It's a composite," Porter said. "We try to gather a picture of the student academically and in terms of extracurricular activities. If I were to single out one factor that is of critical importance, it would be the high school transcript. Students' classroom performance, including their selection of curriculum and performance in those courses, would be the primary information that we consider."

While arguing for the University of California to drop the math and verbal SAT (also called the SAT I), Atkinson said the system should continue requiring students to take SAT II exams, which test knowledge in specific subjects and are more "content-oriented," he said, than the SAT I.

Porter said Pitt does not ask students to take SAT II tests because they are essentially the same as the ACT.

— Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply