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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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