Standardized testing for college admissions has come under intense scrutiny, especially during the COVID pandemic.
But some administrators and testing experts are arguing that the backlash against tests like the SAT and ACT is unfair and based on little evidence, according to The New York Times.
“[A] growing number of experts and university administrators wonder whether the switch has been a mistake,” New York Times reporter David Leonhardt wrote in a feature on the trend away from testing requirements at US colleges.
“Research has increasingly shown that standardized test scores contain real information, helping to predict college grades, chances of graduation and post-college success,” Leonhardt wrote in a feature from Sunday. “Test scores are more reliable than high school grades, partly because of grade inflation in recent years.”
Some administrators at America’s top universities agree that tests like the SAT and ACT are valuable predictors of academic success. “Standardized test scores are a much better predictor of academic success than high school grades,” president of Brown University Christina Paxson wrote in a letter published in June.
Dean of admissions at MIT Stuart Schmill told the Times that grades did not tell the entire story of a student. “Just getting straight A’s is not enough information for us to know whether the students are going to succeed or not,” Schmill said.
Schmill has also argued that MIT, one of the few elite institutions in the US that maintained its testing requirement, actually increased diversity on campus.
“Once we brought the test requirement back, we admitted the most diverse class that we ever had in our history,” Schmill told The Times. “Having test scores was helpful.”
“Test scores have vastly more predictive power than is commonly understood in the popular debate,” Brown University economics professor John Friedman said.
Friedman was one of the authors of a study on the importance of testing for highly selective colleges in the US.
Liberals have led the outcry against standardized testing, claiming that the tests discriminate against Black and Hispanic students, who tend to score lower than White and Asian students.
Leonhardt, however, objected to the argument that “racial and economic gaps in SAT and ACT scores” prove that the “tests are biased.”
“After all, most measures of life in America — on income, life expectancy, homeownership and more — show gaps,” he wrote for the New York Times. “No wonder: Our society suffers from huge inequities. The problem isn’t generally with the statistics, however. The relatively high Black poverty rate is not a sign that the statistic is biased. Nor would scrapping the statistic alleviate poverty.”
“When you don’t have test scores, the students who suffer most are those with high grades at relatively unknown high schools, the kind that rarely send kids to the Ivy League,” Harvard economist David Deming said. “The SAT is their lifeline.”
Other professors advocate for an entirely revolutionary admissions system to higher education. University of California Riverside professor Eddie Comeaux told The Times that “[h]aving a lottery” would force the education system to “radically rethink what it means to gain access and also to learn, rather than accepting the status quo.”
Some school administrators said that the conversation about standardized testing is a highly political one. For progressives, supporting tests like the SAT and ACT can be dangerous.
“It’s not politically correct,” Georgetown University admissions dean Charles Deacon told Intelligencer in a 2022 interview.