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US colleges bring back standardized testing after finding test-optional policies hurt minority students

One professor said it was a ‘racist’ narrative to assume minority students were disadvantaged on SAT or ACT tests

By Nikolas Lanum | Saturday, March 16, 2024 6:00am EDT

Universities across the United States are reinstating requirements for undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores after previously claiming that standardized tests raised concerns about inequality in higher education.

University of St. Thomas (Houston, Texas) professor and associate dean David D. Schein told Fox News Digital that standardized testing is merely designed to give schools one central index on which to compare students. He said while good grades and extracurricular activities are considered, having a reference source independent of geography is essential.

Schein suggested that competition for students has increased because of the downward birth curve and increasing costs. Therefore, dropping testing requirements may have been viewed as a way to increase the applicant pool.

He also blamed the elimination of standardized testing on a narrative circulating in academia that some minority students do not do as well as White and Asian students because of poor schooling or cultural bias in the test.

“Frankly, I found this narrative racist and offensive on its face,” Schein said. “That is because it could be interpreted as ‘certain minorities were too stupid to do well on these demanding standardized tests.’ I have always rejected this narrative. Further, schools should still have the data but can make decisions based on the many factors considered in admissions, not just the SAT.”

The University of Texas at Austin announced on Monday they would once again require applicants to submit test scores beginning August 1 and claimed their test-optional approach over the last four years made it difficult to place students in programs they were best suited for.

“We looked at our students and found that, in many ways, they weren’t faring as well,” U.T. President Dr. Jay Hartzell told The New York Times.

The university added that due to the plethora of 4.0 high school GPAs, the standardized test requirement is a “proven differentiator” that serves the best interests of the applicant and UT.

Many universities dropped the testing requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some prestigious institutions, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University, reinstated their admissions process requirements.

Schools have said the tests allow them to identify promising students who might otherwise have been overlooked — students from schools that don’t offer advanced coursework or extracurriculars and whose teachers may be stretched too thin to write glowing letters of recommendation.

Dartmouth College was the first Ivy League school to reinstate standardized testing requirements in February, writing, “Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process… we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve — not detract from — our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus.”

Christopher Rim, the CEO and founder of Command Education (a private Ivy League and elite college consultancy), told Fox News Digital that many colleges created test-optional policies based on the assumption that standardized testing has historically disadvantaged students of color.

However, a study cited in Dartmouth’s reinstatement announcement noted that test scores help admissions departments interpret transcripts from high schools about which Dartmouth has less information and identify high-achieving, less-advantaged students.

“Researchers found that test-optional policies unintentionally created a barrier for less advantaged students due to the fact that such students often opted against submitting their scores, even when those scores would benefit their application and demonstrate their preparedness for Dartmouth’s rigorous curriculum,” Rim said.

“Additionally, it placed greater emphasis on elements of the application (such as GPA and course rigor) that disadvantaged students may struggle with more due to lack of opportunity or support at underfunded public schools,” he added.

Rim said that while there is no “perfectly equitable” way to evaluate all applications, reincorporating standardized testing alongside other factors, such as extracurriculars, honors courses and essays, will pave the way for a “more fair admissions process.”

Soon after Dartmouth publicized its decision, Yale University announced it would abandon its test-optional policy for 2025 admissions applicants. The institution said not including the tests shifted attention to other aspects of the application, which disadvantaged certain students.

“Test scores provide one consistent and reliable bit of data among the countless other indicators, factors, and contextual considerations we incorporate into our thoughtful whole-person review process,” the school said.

Brown University is the latest Ivy League institution set to return to standardized testing requirements for first-year students. The policy will begin with the class of 2029.

A report from the Brown Ad Hoc Committee on Admissions Policies noted, “The committee was concerned that some students from less advantaged backgrounds are choosing not to submit scores under the test-optional policy when doing so would actually increase their chances of being admitted.”

Brown determined that higher test scores were correlated with higher grades at the university and suggested there are “unintended adverse outcomes of test-optional policies in the admissions process itself, potentially undermining the goal of increasing access.”

However, not everyone believes the pivot back to standardized testing will help disadvantaged students.

Halima Moore, the head counselor at College Achieve Central High School in New Jersey, told Fox News Digital that many universities’ decision to make tests optional has been a crucial step towards promoting fairness and inclusivity in the college admissions process.

At College Achieve Central, Moore serves predominantly low-income and first-generation students. She said the test-optional implementation has significantly benefited her students, and some have been accepted to prestigious schools like Harvard, NYU, and Princeton, where they are currently thriving.

“It’s undeniable that standardized testing disproportionately favors students from privileged backgrounds,” she said. “Affluent families can afford expensive in-person SAT prep courses and multiple test attempts, significantly boosting their chances of achieving high scores. Conversely, many low-income students lack access to such resources due to financial constraints and time commitments, such as part-time jobs or caregiving responsibilities for siblings.”

While some have argued that free online resources level the playing field, Moore said many low-income students cannot dedicate the necessary time to utilize these tools effectively.

She suggested reverting to mandatory standardized testing would undermine efforts to promote fairness and cultivate a more diverse student body, further perpetuating inequalities.

“Maintaining SAT test-optional policies is imperative for advancing equity and diversity in college admissions. It ensures that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have a fair chance to showcase their talents and potential. Let us continue to prioritize fairness and inclusivity in the pursuit of a more just educational system,” Moore concluded.

Fox News

Originally published on Fox News Saturday, March 16, 2024

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