In recent years, a number of colleges and universities have moved towards a “test-flexible” option regarding SAT and ACT admission tests.
Some academics and interest groups argue that standardized tests are culturally biased towards students of color and other disadvantaged applicants. The SAT test debuted in 1926, followed by the ACT in the 1950’s. Standardized tests, combined with high school GPAs, are regarded as one of the best indicators of a student’s performance in post-secondary education. While many may dispute this, I think the research has been fairly consistent.
I wrote about a potential problem with the test-flexible option several years ago. Specifically, how the average SAT scores among incoming freshman would be inflated because only the highest scorers are likely to submit their test results. Higher SAT scores mean a higher ranking for the school. Higher rankings translate into better athletic programs, newer buildings, and bigger endowments.
Last week, George Washington University announced it is dropping the testing requirement for most freshman admissions. GWU administrators cite the need for well-rounded applicants beyond SAT/ACT testing abilities and a concern about anxiety over scores causing some students to not consider GWU. They claim the adoption of a test-flexible option will boost diversity.
Not everyone, however, is exempt. Homeschoolers must submit test scores, as well as college athletes and applicants for a seven year program. School administrators expect some will send in test scores. That seems obvious. Why wouldn’t an applicant submit a high SAT or ACT score? As a result, this will no doubt improve GWU's position in the college rankings.
While debate continues over test-flexible policies, some argue that the test-flexible trend is overstated. Jon Erickson, President of ACT, claims the number of students taking the ACT is increasing and urges colleges to review as much information as possible when making admissions decisions. Erickson believes the “single best predictor of success is a combination of the two — ACT scores and high school course grades.”
In my opinion, test-flexible policies seem counter-intuitive to the goal of increasing diversity and a well-rounded student body. If you drop SAT and ACT tests as an admission criteria, colleges arguably are dropping the single, most objective factor. Based on varying levels of K-12 education in our country, we know that an A grade in Jackson, Mississippi is different from an A in Denver, Colorado, versus an A in Greenwich, Connecticut. It makes sense that colleges would want as much information as possible to ensure the success of an incoming student at their institution.
Additionally, the same argument can be made with respect to essays and extracurricular activities, which are subjective material usually submitted as part of the application package. A student in Denver may be the star player on the state’s best travel lacrosse team and the president of the Student Council. Another student from the same high school may play in the band and head the yearbook staff. Both students have similar grades and want admission into the same college. Absent SAT scores and an admissions officer who coached high school lacrosse, there is little additional information available to help admissions officers make an informed decision. Which applicant will the school admit?
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (also called Fair Test) wants to eliminate the race, class, and gender bias which they argue is present in standardized tests. According to their numbers, more than 125 private colleges and universities now have test-flexible admission policies. Fair Test claims colleges with test-flexible options have seen an increase in minority applicants.
Some argue that eliminating standardized tests will not necessarily increase diversity. Andrew Belasco, a college admissions consultant, believes that test-flexible colleges have not been more successful with increasing the number of students from poor or minority backgrounds. Belasco claims that if colleges want to increase minority student numbers, then they need to increase recruitment efforts and financial aid packages.
I agree. If colleges and universities are concerned about increasing diversity, then they need to put their energies toward recruiting in minority communities. There are hundreds of charter schools across the country where talented minority students have excelled in STEM, pre-med, and liberal arts programs. Additionally, school choice and voucher programs have enabled disadvantaged students to escape failing schools and get the education they deserve. A strong K-12 educational foundation, coupled with competitive financial aid packages, would go a long way towards increasing the student body at top colleges and universities.
GWU’s tuition is a whopping $62,000 a year. If they are so concerned about diversifying their student body, how about decreasing tuition and increasing scholarships? I am sure that would be a step in the right direction towards increasing diversity instead of eliminating SAT and ACT scores.
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