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The Administration’s Hollow Boast On the Strength of Class of 2021 SAT Scores

President Hanlon claims that Dartmouth is “hot,” and the College’s PR folks don’t miss an opportunity to tout the alleged strength and sky-high yield of the Class of 2021. But as we have seen, Dartmouth loses on cross-admits against every other Ivy, save for Cornell. Still, we really should examine the College’s claim that the incoming class is “the most academically accomplished… the College has ever accepted.” In support of this assertion, the press release proffers the statistic that “mean SAT scores rose 17 points over last year’s accepted students, to an all-time high of 1495.”

However — why aren’t you surprised? — the alleged academic strength of the incoming class is NOT what it seems to be. With the new and redesigned SAT, the exam was rescaled. As the College Board itself explains, “Because the two tests are different, their scores are not equivalent — concordance is the only way to make comparisons between them.”

So, at the very least, the College is being sloppy in comparing scores that are on the same nominal numerical scale of 200 to 800, but are in no other ways comparable. To actually understand what the nominal rise in SAT scores means, let’s examine the College Board’s own concordance tables:

SAT Concordance Highlighted.jpg

As we can see, a higher score on the new SAT generally correlates with a lower score on the old SAT. Apparently, grades are not the only thing being inflated these days. Here is a graphical representation:


As the administration trumpets, the mean SAT score for students admitted to the Class of 2021 is 1495. Let’s be charitable and call that 1500. The mean SAT for those admitted to the Class of 2020 was 2219 on the 2400 scale and 1478 on the 1600 scale (see the yellow highlights above). Let’s call that 2220 and 1480, respectively. 2220 on the old SAT scales to somewhere between 1520 and 1530 on the new SAT, and 1480 scales to somewhere between 1510 and 1520. Using the table in the other direction, 1500 on the new SAT scales to 2170 out of 2400 or 1460 out of 1600 for the old SAT.

Either way, the sub-1500 score we are seeing for the Class of 2021 seems at a minimum like a 20-point drop (out of 1600) in real terms compared to the Class of 2020. Uh, Phil?

Does all this accounting really matter? Who knows? As anyone who has been through the process of applying to college can attest, scores on standardized tests are just one factor in a dauntingly complex and seemingly capricious process. There exists a surfeit of students with high test scores, and admissions officers have the unenviable job of constructing a class that is not just smart, but interesting and varied as well.

However, for our mathematician President and his administration to tout the incoming class as the strongest in the College’s history based on quantitative metrics is, at the very least, misleading. A truer representation is that this year incoming students’ mean SAT scores fell by more than 20 points, and by this limited metric the Class of 2021 is weaker than the Class of 2020, not stronger.

Of course, the administration’s leaders know this, but they think that we don’t. We do.

Addendum: Dartblog has it on good authority that most upperclassmen already believe that the Class of 2021 is the worst Dartmouth class ever.


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