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A new study out in the journal Psychological Science confirms that the SATs are predictive of the performance of college students, no matter what their socioeconomic group. The authors, a team at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, led by Paul R. Sackett, a professor of psychology (who also works as a consultant to the College Board), looked at 143,000 students at 110 different schools and compared their SAT scores with their performance during the first year of college. No matter their socioeconomic group, the SAT scores were good predictors of college performance and when added to high school grades, the SATs were very good predictors of college performance.

According to the account in Inside Higher Ed, "the study said there is no institutional 'barrier' to admission for these students, only the realities of economic inequality in the United States that result in many low-income people never applying to college."

Opponents of the SATs have always claimed that the standardized test does not have the same kind of predictive value for minority college applicants and applicants in lower socioeconomic groups. They like to cite examples of the SATs being insensitive -- asking questions about yachts or other things that poor inner city kids wouldn't know about. And if poor students saw such things in, say, a reading comprehension section they would be thrown off and wouldn't perform as well.

Some critics have gone further. In a 2003 article from The Nation by lawyer Jay Rosner, president of the Princeton Review Foundation, wrote: "A new analysis of the SAT that I conducted reveals something startling: Every single question carefully preselected to appear on the test favors whites over blacks. . . . I call these 'white preference questions.' "

This, of course, is ridiculous. And pretty offensive too. Are the math questions also biased in favor of whites too? Are those complicated numbers only things white people understand? As I wrote in an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago,

All you have to know about racial bias and the SATs is this: The scores of black students overpredict their performance in college. In their 1998 pro-affirmative-action manifesto, "The Shape of the River," William Bowen and Derek Bok (former presidents of Harvard and Princeton) found that black students at elite schools typically perform in college at the level of white students with SAT scores 300 points lower.

One critic of this new study, Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, told Insider Higher Ed that the authors did not take account of those people who did not apply to college at all:

Schaeffer also cited the experience of colleges that have dropped SAT requirements and have almost uniformly reported that they then attract more applicants from minority and low-income groups. SAT and ACT requirements "deter many low-income and minority students from ever applying," he said. So the way to promote the enrollment of such students is through "eliminating that hurdle," not describing the SAT as fair to all groups.

But this is neither here nor there. Whether a college gets more poor or minority applicants as a result of dropping the SAT doesn't mean that they get more qualified applicants. And we have no idea how those additional applicants did during their first year of college.

The SAT cannot predict everything, but it does have its uses. And we are not doing poor and minority kids any favors by suggesting that bad performance on the SAT doesn't mean anything.

As Seppy Basili, a Kaplan vice president told me,  "The premise that the SAT is unfair is a hackneyed position that I don't see a lot of merit to. There is no question that different groups perform differently, but the SAT is just the messenger, not the problem."

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