Whenever some new problem arises in the British university system, the first place some people look for a panacea is the United States. Not always a good idea. In light of the Bristol University admissions row, the leader in the Independent calls for something akin to the American Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as an alternative university selection mechanism for British colleges. This is a really, really bad idea. Clearly the Indy hasn’t heard that the SAT is controversial in the United States for exacerbating precisely in the problem that they hope it would solve in Britain. As the leader notes,
Universities that are serious about broadening their entry ought to try using a test of aptitude like the American SATs to supplement A-levels and select candidates for interviews.Of course, any selection mechanism will be colonised by the activist middle classes keen to gain an edge for their children.
Exactly. The U.S. (upper-) middle class has created a vast industry of test-preparation programmes to give their kids an edge on the SAT and similar tests. And they have been remarkably successful. As Nicholas Lemann argues in The Big Test, the SAT was designed to be a neutral, meritocratic selection device (albeit laced with some eugenic thinking). Today, there are major positive correlations between parental income and SAT scores. Not to mention the disadvantages to non-white and female students that have been statistically demonstrated. And the lack of any correlation between SAT scores and performance in tertiary education.