In Meadows, higher SAT not correlated with higher GPA

SAT scores for Meadows students have increased over the past decade. (SMC File Photo)

Statistics show that while there has not been a national upward trend in students’ SAT scores over the last nine years, SMU Meadows School of the Arts students’ SAT scores have increased.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s report on SAT Scores, in 2002, the average nationwide SAT score of just the mathematics and reading sections was 1,020. In 2013, the average nationwide SAT score was 1,011 (497 in critical reading and 514 in mathematics), a decrease of 9 points in the past decade.

By contrast, first-year Meadows students in the fall of 2002 had an average SAT score of 1,187, while first-year Meadows students in the fall of 2013 had an average SAT score of 1,302. This marks a significant increase of 115 points, or almost 10 percent.

“SAT scores for entering Meadows students have been tracking upwards in line with the university at large,” said Corinna Nash-Wnuk, who serves as the director of undergraduate recruitment for Meadows School of the Arts.

This may also suggest the high quality of Meadows students in particular, according to Stephen Forrest, assistant registrar at Meadows.

“It is not that the scores of all applicants have risen dramatically,” Forrest said. “It is that Meadows has had the luxury of admitting better students from a larger application pool. Undergraduate admissions has worked over the years to increase the overall number of applicants, allowing SMU more options in admitting better students, with the result being a higher average SAT score for incoming classes.”

This may not suggest the high quality of Meadows students, but rather that the rising tide of all applicants continues to increase Meadows included.

While the SAT scores of incoming Meadows students has risen 10 percent since 2002, the GPA cut-off for the top 5 percent of the Meadows class has only slightly increased. While these students had a 10 percent higher SAT score coming in, it only translated into a 6 percent increase in achieved GPA once an SMU student.

There were 62 Meadows students who fit the criteria for Honor Roll with High Distinction (defined as the top 5 percent in one’s class) for 2002 and 60 for 2013. The average SAT score for the Meadows Honor recipients for 2002 was 1,286 and the average GPA for that group was 3.933. The average SAT score for the Meadows Honor Roll recipients for 2013 was 1,351 and the average GPA for that group was 3.961. The minimum GPA cutoff went up by 1.4 percent, GPA average went up by 0.71 percent and the SAT average went up by 5 percent.

Therefore, while there was a corresponding rise in both incoming SAT scores and first semester GPA for these first-year students, the GPA increase was lagging behind the higher SAT scores.

Has the quality of students in the overall applicant pool improved? Or have professors given students better tools to study for their tests and exams? Is access to test taking classes become more readily available?

“I definitely see that students are very different today than they were in 1986,” said Martin Sweidel, an associate dean at Meadows who has been at SMU since 1986. “I actually find those differences to be less about GPA or SAT and more about the impact that near instant access to almost unlimited information has had on how students think, work, play and most importantly, learn. In my view, SAT and ACT scores really tell only part of the story.”

Sophomore communications major Kelsey Williams said that she was able to train to take the SAT in high school, which she believes is a key reason why SAT scores
have increased.

“The SAT is a very specific type of test that has not changed much. With the SAT, it isn’t necessarily the level or aptitude of a student that changes; it’s just about cracking the code in order to take that test,” Williams said.

“There’s not a ‘Here’s How-to SMU’ guide,” Williams said, in contrast to the SAT scores. “The curriculum and the courses that are offered and everything that is involved in college changes a lot more than the SAT does. There’s always a new class, always a new professor and always a new way to go about achieving a degree.”

“Maybe the professors realized that the caliber of their students has increased with their SAT score,” junior journalism and theatre student Kathleen Gaskins said. “But that doesn’t change the way they are going to grade them once they get here. That doesn’t change the lessons that they teach and it doesn’t change the academic portion of what we do here.”

As the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s Commission on the Use of Standardized Admission Tests in Undergraduate Admissions reported to the Washington Post in a February report, the point is that test scores are not particularly good predictors of performance in college. As Sweidel, Williams and Gaskins allude, this helps explain why rising SAT scores have not translated into rising GPAs.

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