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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Without test scores, college admissions is 'chaotic' -- and still unfair

Without SAT or ACT scores, deciding who to admit is "chaotic, admissions officers told Kelly Slay, a Vanderbilt researcher. It's hard to be fair.

Most colleges and universities waived test scores during the pandemic, and many haven't restored them, reports Hechinger's Jill Barshay. Test-optional policies are supposed to be fairer for students who can't afford tutors or test prep.


As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up affirmative action in college admissions, she writes, Slay's interviews "shed light on why test-optional policies haven’t been helpful for increasing diversity on college campuses."

Earlier quantitative studies found that the test-optional movement, which has spread to over 1,700 colleges, failed to substantially raise the share of low-income students or students of color. For example, one study published in 2021 found that the share of Black, Latino and Native American students increased by only 1 percentage point at about 100 colleges and universities that adopted the policy between 2005-06 and 2015-16. A separate study of a group of selective liberal arts colleges that adopted test-optional policies before 2011 didn’t find any didn’t find any diversity improvements on those campuses.

Even at schools that west test-optional years ago, admissions officers are struggling to find unbiased ways to select candidates. Students from affluent families go to schools with stronger academic ratings and lots of AP and IB courses. They can access more extracurriculars and provide more impressive letters of recommendation.


Grade inflation can turn everyone into an A student. The applicant who submitted test scores looks better than the one with identical grades who did not.


“Test optional does not mean an increase in diversity -- racial diversity or socio-economic diversity,” said Slay.

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5 Comments


zeev
Oct 24, 2022

The stated goal of test-optional or no-test policies is to balance various "diversity" measures such as race or color of skin without being constrained by actual achievement and/or expectations of success.


The fact that, per the research, it seems not to work indicates that schools found after toying with this idea that it simply pushes to many unqualified students into colleges where they fail to graduate. Essentially what MIT found, yet again, recently when it restored the need for SAT/ACT scores.


The thing to watch for are student's graduation rates and time-to-graduation for schools like CSU and UC. These are bound to fall in the next 5-6 years despite the institutional efforts to prop them right now.


https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/about-us/information-center/ug-outcomes

https://tableau.calstate.edu/views/GraduationRatesPopulationPyramidPrototype_liveversion/SummaryDetails


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Guest
Oct 24, 2022

As a homeschooler, even test-optional places demand standardized test scores for my kids. Which is fair, because without tests, how can they know whether or not I was a rigorous instructor? However, the same goes for any random AP English teacher, too.

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Oct 24, 2022

Instead, test-optional means a greater chance of substituting a student who will end up on academic probation during the first year in place of one who would have achieved higher grades if they hadn't been denied admission because of affirmative action, whose definition has become distorted since President Kennedy first used the phrase.

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Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Oct 27, 2022
Replying to

The real point of the test scores, as Diane Ravitch reveals in "Left Back", with special attention to James B. Conant's promotion of the SAT at Harvard, was to discover scholastic aptitude in students from obscure corners of the nation, who might replace the establishment mediocrities who made up too much of the matriculating classes admitted in the 1930s.

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