By Shirin Kaye
A hallmark of the college process that students nervously anticipate is the SAT (or the ACT, an alternate standardized test for college admissions). This so-called Scholastic Assessment Test, originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is designed to produce a numerical score that will indicate to colleges how prepared a given student is for post-secondary education, based on the language and math skills that he or she learned in high school. Although upperclassmen are likely to hate it after having spent hours -- and lots of money -- studying for the test, there is a larger problem with this method of assessing. Proponents of the SAT may argue that a standardized test levels the playing field for all high schoolers, but that is shortsighted. The SAT does not measure one’s academic readiness, rather one’s ability -- and resources -- to take the test itself.
“Test scores add relatively little to our ability to predict the success of our students,” wrote Thomas Rochon, former president of Ithaca College. The reasoning behind his decision to make the application process test-optional is to prevent an unfair limiting of the applicant pool and distortion of the admissions process. A student’s high school GPA (grade point average) suggests more about college readiness than does an SAT score, as the former reflects the student’s development over time in a range of subjects. Furthermore, Rochon stated that the requirement for a standardized test score “deters some potentially strong students from even applying” -- and largely from underrepresented groups. The freshman class that was not required to submit standardized testing brought in more applications and a student body that had more diversity and equally strong academics: proof of the benefit of eliminating testing requirements.
Hampshire College opposes standardized tests to the extreme: by not accepting scores at all. This is different from a test-optional school, which is a school that accepts but does not require submitted scores. When admissions processes focus on the SAT/ACT, “the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores,” explained the former president of the school, Jonathan Lash. Instead of accepting students in order to improve the school’s ranking, Hampshire College asks applicants for more essays and a portfolio as bases for admissions officers to deem whether each student fits with the school’s mission. When they adopted the new policy, “every other detail of the student’s application became more vivid.” By nixing test scores, this school aims to admit students based on quality, not quantity.
It is unfortunate that students and schools waste their time on producing and evaluating standardized test scores, when the true measure of success lies elsewhere.