Should Students Be Required to Take the SAT and ACT to Apply to College?

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Should Students Be Required to Take the SAT and ACT to Apply to College?

Or, are standardized test scores, like the SAT and ACT, unfair and inaccurate?

In “Why Is the SAT Falling Out of Favor?,” Shawn Hubler asks, “Are the tests that were first deployed to diversify the Ivy League beyond rich prep schoolers a worthwhile yardstick, or are they, as one U.C. regent put it, ‘a proxy for privilege?’” The article continues:

The California system has become the biggest and best-known American institution of higher education to step away from the use of the two major standardized tests, citing charges that they disadvantage students who are poor, black, and Hispanic.

In the last decade or so, more than 1,230 colleges and universities have made the SAT and ACT optional for admission, according to FairTest, a group that has pushed to end testing requirements.

But with a few well-known exceptions, such as the University of Chicago, most have been small institutions. The question now is whether the 300,000-student California system’s decision will spell the beginning of the end for college admissions testing.

“The SAT has been remarkably resilient,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education. “But this will quite possibly lead other public universities to say, ‘Well if the U.C. can do without it, why do we still need it?’”

The article also offers an explanation why test scores are still considered in many college admissions decisions:

Admissions officers typically look at several data points, not just test scores.

But those who argue for keeping the tests say colleges need some sort of broad yardstick to compare students across disparate school districts and states. And at large colleges, getting rid of the tests would mean revising the whole mechanism for admissions — retraining admissions officers, redoing applications and rethinking an entire methodology.

The tests provide important information beyond assessing achievement. Some studies have shown that SAT and ACT scores, combined with a student’s grade point average and other factors, can help predict a student’s success in college, especially in the crucial first year.

At the University of California, a faculty task force found that standardized tests were a better predictor of college success than high school grades were. They also found that including the SAT and ACT in the formula for admissions helped some black, Hispanic and low-income students by offering an additional metric for those who might have been rejected based on grades.

The article continues:

Admissions officers typically look at several data points, not just test scores.

But those who argue for keeping the tests say colleges need some sort of broad yardstick to compare students across disparate school districts and states. And at large colleges, getting rid of the tests would mean revising the whole mechanism for admissions — retraining admissions officers, redoing applications and rethinking an entire methodology.

The tests provide important information beyond assessing achievement. Some studies have shown that SAT and ACT scores, combined with a student’s grade point average and other factors, can help predict a student’s success in college, especially in the crucial first year.

At the University of California, a faculty task force found that standardized tests were a better predictor of college success than high school grades were. They also found that including the SAT and ACT in the formula for admissions helped some black, Hispanic and low-income students by offering an additional metric for those who might have been rejected based on grades.

As for why the University of California decided to no longer look at applicants’ SAT and ACT scores, the article states:

Critics of the tests cite decades of data indicating that they are inherently biased in favor of affluent, white and Asian-American students. During the debate among the California regents this week, numerous speakers used the word “racist” to describe the exams.

Critics also say the tests are too easily gamed by students who can pay thousands of dollars for private coaching and test prep. Carol Christ, the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, has long called for a move away from standardized testing for admissions. She cited the recent college admissions bribery scandal as a case in point, calling the episode “grotesque.”

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit pending against the University of California say use of the tests build on existing disparities. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, 55 percent of Asian-American test takers and 45 percent of white test takers scored a 1200 or higher on the SAT in 2019. For Hispanic and black students, those numbers were 12 percent and 9 percent.

Proponents of a change say it is fairer to judge students by other measures, such as teacher recommendations. Some studies have suggested that high school grades better measure a student’s likelihood of graduation and cumulative performance in college.

And some school officials say the tests are superfluous. California’s community college chancellor, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who is also a University of California regent, reminded the board this week that the university already enrolls tens of thousands of transfer students who are not required to take any standardized admission tests.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Were you surprised by anything you read in the article? If so, what? Have you taken the SAT or ACT? If so, do you think your score is an accurate reflection on your knowledge, skills and potential to do well in college and beyond? Explain.

  • Have you applied to any colleges or universities? If you have, was an SAT or ACT score required or optional? Did the standardized test score policies of the admissions department affect your decision to apply? If so, how?

  • If you haven’t taken the SAT or ACT, do you think you will have to at some point? What have you been told about the importance of standardized tests in terms of your academic career? Has anything you read today supported or challenged your view? Explain.

  • How should admissions departments evaluate applications in the absence of SAT and ACT scores? To what extent can high school grades and teacher recommendations replace test scores in determining whether to grant a student admission or scholarship opportunities? Do you think this could lead to pressure on teachers to inflate grades or write glowing recommendations for all students?

  • Critics believe there is an inherent bias in standardized testing and, as you read, some people find the exams racist. Why do you think they believe this? What is your stance? Do you think there may be a solution and if so, what is it?

  • You also read about allegations that standardized testing favors students whose families can afford test prep courses and private coaches. Should this sort of preparation be provided to all students in a push to make the process more fair? If so, where should the funding for the classes and coaching come from? Could this help solve the problem? Explain.

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.