The best predictor of college success is not the SAT, but rather tests that examine knowledge of a standardized curriculum, such as SAT subject tests, said Fitzsimmons, who over the past year led a commission of leading admissions officials that is recommending that colleges rely less on the SAT.
Fitzsimmons said that in the future Harvard may give students the option of taking five or more SAT Subject Tests in lieu of the SAT Reasoning Test or its frequent alternative, the ACT.
“The clear message to students would be to focus on their subjects in school…rather than spending enormous amounts of time and money trying to game the SAT and ACT,” he said.
Fitzsimmons led admissions officials who were convened by the National Association for College Admission Counseling to construct a report examining the utility of admissions tests such as the SAT.
Some colleges, such as Bates, Lawrence, Wake Forest and Smith, have already made the SAT and ACT optional, and could prove to be at the vanguard of a new trend if the recommendations of Fitzsimmons and his committee take hold.
Harvard currently requires that applicants submit three SAT subject tests, which, like the SAT, are developed by the College Board.
The SAT and ACT’s predictive values of college performance lag behind both high school GPA and standardized curriculum tests, according to Fitzsimmons.
The 2005 addition of a writing portion to the SAT Reasoning Test is “similar to high school grades in predictive strength,” said Fitzsimmons.
He said another possibility may be to “develop broader-based, curriculum-based tests” to serve as better predictors of college success.
Fitzsimmons acknowledged that one possible snag in the report’s advice is that students from poor high schools can be inadequately prepared for subject tests compared to their peers in more affluent school districts.
Harvard eliminated its early admission program last fall because of concerns that early admission provides an unfair advantage to applicants from privileged backgrounds.
Michele A. Hernandez, president and founder of Vermont-based Hernandez College Consulting, said that her students “waste tons of hours” prepping for the SAT, which she characterized as deeply flawed.
Hernandez, who worked as assistant director of admissions at Dartmouth for four years and is currently helping more than 100 students with their applications, said the report would not change her counseling strategy, and that significant changes in admissions policy would be slow in coming. “Schools are reluctant to lower their SAT averages.”
The commission’s report also called for an end to the use of SAT scores as the sole screening factor for winning scholarship programs or ranking schools.
The report specifically criticized the use of SAT scores in U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings. Harvard bested Princeton for the top spot in this year’s annual college rankings after either placing second or tying for first in recent years.
Fitzsimmons also pointed to an unintended side effect of excessive test prep.
“Sometimes they spend so much effort and time on test prep that they lose the other parts of their lives and ironically turn out to be worse college candidates and less prepared for college overall,” he said.
—Staff writer Lingbo Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.