THERE IS no perfect college admissions test, and lately many people have begun to believe there’s not even a good one. The solution for some schools? Scrap the SAT and ACT altogether. George Washington University is the latest and among the largest in a long line of colleges to stop requiring standardized test scores from applicants. Abandoning the tests is a mistake.
George Washington and more than 125 other schools that have made the same decision cite two primary reasons for their choice. First, standardized tests do not accurately reflect a student’s academic capability, and a poor score could discourage a qualified student from applying. Second, the racial and socioeconomic bias in tests — wealthy white students tend to perform better than minority students from poor backgrounds — prevents colleges from bringing qualified minority or disadvantaged students to campus.
Critics of testing claim that high school curricular performance is the best predictor of later success. Grades do matter, and they should play a central role in admissions decisions. Yet research also shows that standardized test scores correlate closely with individual achievement in college and beyond. And when it comes to attracting and admitting a wider pool of students, a study of 180 liberal arts colleges, 32 with test-optional policies, showed that dropping test requirements does more for a school’s selectivity — and its position in national rankings — than its diversity.
There is no doubt that both the SAT and ACT are flawed. There is also little question that the persistent racial gap in scores needs addressing. Still, standardized tests are far from worthless. No college can possibly know what an A-minus or B-plus means in each of the thousands of high schools their applicants attend; the vast variation in high school course offerings and grading systems makes a uniform method of evaluation such as a standardized test extremely useful. In fact, the fewer objective measures included in the holistic review process many colleges tout, the more space there is for personal considerations to sneak into decisions, whether based on an applicant’s identifying traits or an admissions officer’s mood at a given time of day.
Schools are not diverse enough, and standardized tests are not equally accessible to all students. But getting rid of the assessments is not the answer. Instead, George Washington and other universities should fight to improve tests. More important, rather than blaming their failure to recruit a diverse group of students on flaws in the testing system, they should spend time and money developing robust outreach and financial aid programs. That will be the true test of their commitment to leveling the admissions playing field.
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