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On Standardized Admission Tests: Acknowledging the Limits of Test Scores and Test-Optional

This year, more than 1000 colleges have opted to go test-optional, forfeiting the use of SAT and ACT scores as a deciding admissions factor. The discourse surrounding standardized testing has existed since its introduction to the American schooling system. It is an issue that many of my peers and I have considered as well. With the recent pandemic exacerbating inequities in both our education and healthcare systems, the conversation around standardized tests is more relevant than ever.

For decades, test scores have played a significant, and sometimes deciding, role in college admission decisions. These tests are intended to be an objective measure of predicting postsecondary promise, but research and data makes a strong case that these standardized test scores are poor indicators of student success during and post-college. Also, research shows that these exams act as vehicles to perpetuate the racial and socioeconomic disparities in college admissions and graduations. This does not only apply to college. It is a prevalent issue that I have observed even in our local NYC grade school system. The city’s specialized high schools and SHSAT exam are notoriously criticized for being exclusive and admitting students who do not adequately represent the city’s diverse population.

Attending a selective public high school myself, my school’s admissions process relies on a single, high-stakes admissions exam that tests students on topics above grade level. Similar to the college admissions process, students who come from more privileged backgrounds have greater access to resources such as well-funded schools, learning opportunities, private tutors, and prep courses. In contrast, students of color are often concentrated in schools with fewer funding and resources. This is not to say that anyone is more or less deserving of opportunities, but an acknowledgement that oftentimes, minority and low-income students are comparatively disadvantaged. The limitations of these admissions systems are reflected in the demographics of the student body. In a city where 25.5% of students are Black, 40.6% Hispanic, and 73% are low-income, my school’s student body is only 2.8% Black, 6.3% Hispanic, and 4.5% low-income. Reliance on an admissions test score creates a student body with underrepresented populations and this is a pattern that exists within both high-school classrooms and college educations.

However, simply going test-optional is not enough. While the decision to go test-optional is largely attributed to the pandemic this year, this movement has been gaining traction in recent years. Many institutions claim it as a step towards greater enrollment of low-income and minority students. In truth, studies have shown that many colleges have actually become more selective since forfeiting tests. According to a study from the University of Georgia, because students with lower scores tend to not submit them, higher test scores that are submitted raise the average. Even though colleges are receiving more applications from minority groups of students, there is scarce evidence that they are actually being enrolled.

In order to build a truly fair admissions system, simply eliminating admissions tests will not cut it. From improving the financial aid verification process, expanding financial aid grants to cover more than tuition, securing housing solutions for students, to confronting the issue of legacy admissions, significant work needs to be done.While I am extremely fortunate to attend a school that offers me adequate support, it is important to recognize that many students do not have the same access. It is time to overhaul a system that clearly disadvantages marginalized communities, perpetuating de facto segregation, and instead, implement fairer assessment systems that will support the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students.

Almer Yu is a junior at Hunter College High School and a summer intern with Young Invincibles-New York.