Standardized testing should be phased out

Tucker Ward, Staff Reporter

As many colleges become test-optional due to COVID-19, Lasso writer Tucker Ward makes an argument for why they should stay that way. (Graphic by Matthew Lin)

This year, many colleges and universities eliminated standardized test requirements because many seniors could not take the test due to the COVID-19 outbreak. One of the largest scale examples is the University of California system, which has dropped the requirement for SAT and ACT until 2024 and until 2025 for in-state students, and plans to phase out the testing requirements long-term and develop a new assessment of their own.

Standardized testing is sold as a fair way of measuring how hard a student works and their future potential. Ostensibly, the more seriously a student takes their education the better they are going to perform. However, studies have proven that the SAT and similar tests are truly indicators of a student’s class, race, and level of parental education than anything else. Schools going test-optional this year for COVID-19 are moving in the right direction—but they need to make that change permanent.

The creator of the SAT, Carl Brigham, used testing as a way to discredit women, immigrants, non-whites and the poor. Brigham said, “The decline of American intelligence will be more rapid than the decline of the intelligence of European national groups, owing to the presence here of the negro.” 

Standardized testing focuses on measuring students while ignoring racial and class inequalities that punish Black communities. SAT scores are better reflectors of a students household income, race, and level of parental education than the students actual abilities and likelihood of success. High-income, predominantly white students can afford test prep courses that guarantee to raise your score by 200 points, where low-income students simply cannot. Even with free courses, underprivileged students may not have the time to add studying to their to-do list between after-school jobs and normal schoolwork.  

While it is true that implementing test-optional policies may only be the first step in a long path towards fair college acceptance, they are a step in the right direction. It is impossible to remove standardized testing from its classist, sexist, and racist roots, but by removing the requirement for these test scores, colleges can easily diversify their student body without sacrificing academics.

Test-optional policies help diversify a college’s student base without any harm to their academic merit. Students who chose not to submit a score when applying to colleges are on average just as likely to graduate as those who did not. A low-income student may have the same academic abilities, but simply could not afford to take the SAT or a prep course that would have boosted their score. When schools switch to a test-optional policy, they see an increase in the number of Black and Latino students who apply and are admitted. When a test bars admission, it also bars those who cannot afford to take the test.

Theresa E. Hernandez, a research assistant who studies policies that hinder first generation immigrants, said that “to accept any ‘predictive’ measure that perpetuates these inequalities, even indirectly, is a disservice to communities of color and poor people today and robs future generations of their potential.” 

Test scores may be the most efficient way of comparing students, but one metric can never measure the potential of every student, especially when they come from different walks of life. SAT and ACT scores measure students in a way that is easy to compare, but GPA is a much better indicator of students abilities. It is more reflective of potential and not students’ situation. 

While there are larger issues in our education system, removing test requirements and encouraging schools to go test blind are simple ways to level the playing field when it comes to getting into college. A first step is better than no steps—removing tests may not remove the years of gaps between white and non-white students, but college and graduate school give people the opportunities and resources that can help them achieve more later in life.

The University of California system was already detailing a plan to eliminate test requirements over a 10 year plan for removing test requirements—the pandemic only added to their momentum. This development represents an incredibly important systemic change building in the higher education system.

“The impacts of this decision [University of California’s test-optional policy] will be both profound and far-reaching,” Bob Schaeffer, the interim executive director of FairTest (the National Center for Fair & Open Testing), said in a statement. “[We] expect many colleges and universities now in the process of evaluating their own admissions testing mandates to heed the message from California and adopt ACT/SAT-optional policies.”

In 2020 alone, 150 additional schools dropped the SAT/ACT requirement for at least one year, making a total of more than 1,225 colleges and universities that have a test-optional policy for the 2021 school year. The removal of test requirements this year shows hope for a future of fairer college admissions.