OVERVIEW: Improve Texas SAT scores; A&M’s measures miss the mark


Improve Texas SAT scores

A report released Monday by the College Board showed that the average SAT scores for Texas high school students dropped five points since the previous year. In contrast, the national average for the SAT increased by one point over that period.

The report is not entirely negative for Texas; the state had the highest nation-wide increase in the number of students taking the test.

According to the UT admissions office’s yearly reports, the average SAT scores of the incoming freshman class at UT increased by 18 points on the 1600-point scale for the 10-year period from 1998 to 2008. UT admissions policy is already restricted by state law. If current trends continue, and if UT is to retain its high admissions standards for students who aren’t automatically admitted, then in the coming years the University will have a smaller pool of competitive potential applicants.

However, SAT scores are not always a reliable indicator of a student’s intelligence or quality of education. Studies have established a direct correlation between a student’s SAT scores and their family’s level of income. In recent years, many colleges, such as Sarah Lawrence College, have either made the SAT an optional part of the admissions process or dropped consideration of SAT scores from their admissions process altogether.

Regardless of the merits of the SAT, this latest study should be taken seriously. Even if the SAT is an imperfect or flawed method of evaluating students, it’s the chosen method of universities across the country. While UT may want to reconsider how the SAT and other standardized tests are weighted in the admissions process, there are thousands of other Texas high school students who will be applying to schools other than UT. Additionally, other standardized tests such as the PSAT have substantial impact on a student’s access to scholarships.

Whether it means re-evaluating the curriculum or finding additional incentives for students, the state has a compelling interest in studying how to improve Texas’ test scores.

A&M’s measures miss the mark

Texas A&M, it seems, is fixated on measuring its faculty.

Over the summer, the school system showed enthusiasm for a plan to entice faculty members with $10,000 for positive student evaluations. Now, it’s measuring the amount of money each faculty member brings in and has been doing so for six months.

The formula: each individual faculty member’s salary subtracted from research money and tuition he or she brought in. The measurement has inspired both outrage and support, but A&M claims the evaluations are only in the interest of efficiency and not a way of ranking professors. Our concern is that the policy rewards inaccessible professors.

Frank Ashley, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the A&M system and overseer of the evaluation, maintained that A&M is “not grading anybody” and has confidence that the study will only give its subjects — A&M faculty members at all 11 campuses — the credit they deserve.

He told the Bryan-College Station newspaper, The Eagle, “I think the first thing this will show is that pretty much every university in the system, pretty much every college, pretty much every department, is pulling its weight. There might be one or two departments that are running in the red. Overall, we’re operating in the black.”

What’s so troubling about A&M’s policy, however, is the fact that it emphasizes all the wrong things from the perspective of a student. By A&M’s standards, professors who teach large classes of students and conduct lucrative research are the most valuable or most “efficient.” However, while research is an important part of a professor’s job, so is teaching — something A&M doesn’t measure in its evaluations.

While A&M’s solutions don’t always translate into similar ones at UT — no talk of $10,000 prizes for best student evaluations here — the most probable explanation for A&M’s recent interest in “efficiency” is lean budgets, something that is a problem at UT. As UT grapples with the constraints of less money, administrators should not look to A&M as a model. Research is important to the University, but so is teaching.