It’s time for standardized tests to go

The new ACT individual section retake policy will only exacerbate the score gap between students who come from wealthy families and those who are less well off.

  That’s because a fee must be paid for each section retake, so students who can afford multiple attempts will be able to achieve a significantly higher score. This makes the supposedly standardized comparison inherently unfair.

This recent development reinforces our viewpoint that standardized testing is an outdated practice. Rather than trying to make up for the flaws of standardized testing or change the format of the tests, it’s time to eliminate them entirely from the college admissions process.

Students from lower income households already often do not score as well as students who are more affluent.

As stated in a Washington Post article, “The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit known as FairTest, just analyzed SAT scores for the high school class of 2019. It reported that the gaps between demographic groups grew larger from a year earlier, with the average scores of students from historically disenfranchised groups falling further behind students from more privileged families.”

In light of this information, it is obvious that standardized testing favors students from families with a higher income. After all, wealthy parents can afford private tutors and other top of the line preparation programs.

The role that family income plays in standardized testing was underscored in the recent Varsity Blues Scandal. Parents (many of whom were in the top 1%) used their wealth to artificially inflate their children’s scores.

“They had their children’s SAT bubble sheets corrected by a corrupt proctor. And they conspired with the consultant at the center of the case, William Singer, to evade the efforts of school counselors to fact-check applications,” the New York Times reported.

Beyond the inequity in test scores caused by differences in income, intelligence and college-readiness both include many factors a test cannot measure. These tests measure how skilled students are at test taking, or how quickly and accurately they can read a passage, rather than truly representing intelligence, creativity, or work ethic.

Some may argue that these personality traits will come to light in other parts of the application (such as a teacher recommendation letter or an essay). And while it is true that many schools review applications in a holistic manner, we all know that bad or mediocre test scores can sometimes be the decisive reason why a student is not admitted.

Some schools have recently made the switch and no longer require applicants to send ACT or SAT scores, a decision that we applaud. Marquette University and the University of Rochester both dropped this requirement over the summer, and University of Chicago made the switch back in 2018.

A PBS article analyzed a study that was conducted by William Hiss, the former Dean of Admissions for Bates College. This study noted the grades and graduation rates of students who chose to submit their test scores versus those who did not.

“Hiss’ data showed that there was a negligible difference in college performance between the two groups. Only .05 percent of a GPA point set “submitters” and “non-submitters” apart, and the difference in their graduation rates was just .6 percent,” said the PBS article.

The college board has been aware of and is working to fix the shortcomings of their exam. The adversity score–which has now been replaced with “landscape”–provides colleges with necessary context. It gives admissions officers information about the quality of the school as well as relative wealth and crime rates of the neighborhood.

However, this action on the part of college board doesn’t address the root of the problem–the unfair nature of standardized testing. Instead, it attempts to mitigate the negative impact standardized testing often has on the less wealthy.

While we understand why colleges would want a universal method to compare applicants, the reality is that such tests don’t take into account the full picture.

Students should not be required to submit standardized test scores as part of the college admissions process.