SAT & ACT: Should every US university drop the requirement?
Is this the best way to judge how well a candidate will do in university and beyond? Source: Shutterstock

Last month, the University of Chicago announced it will drop the SAT/ACT requirement for admissions, sparking a fresh round of inquiries on whether other institutions would follow suit.

The move is part of the research university’s plan to attract more first-generation and low income students. Dropping these scores as requirement will level the playing field for interested applicants as it means they spend less to apply to the school.

Whatever its motivations, Chicago’s move puts them in the same league as hundreds of other American colleges and universities that have made standardised testing redundant when deciding which applicant deserves to be admitted through its gates.

No SAT or ACT scores required to get a foot through these doors anymore. Source: Shutterstock

Not everyone is on board with the test-optional movement, however. Some have defended these tests as necessary “yardsticks for parents, lawmakers and — most important — students”.

The debate goes back to the core issue behind admission, that is, how individuals are assessed.

To do so, American institutions have long deployed a checklist for recruitment officers to tick off when interviewing students. At the top of the list are grades, followed by extracurricular activities and the admissions essay. For international students, there is the added requirement of English language proficiency and financial capability.

These requirements have been in place for decades. Even as the world around higher education continues to change, admissions criteria have for the most part remained the same. The necessary question we should be asking thus becomes whether these requirements are now outdated.

There is some evidence to suggest it is.

Tainted with privilege, the component with the most weight placed – the SAT/ACT scores – can now hardly be said to paint a useful picture of how successful a particular student will be if he or she enrols. Studies have shown that family income and race play a big role in how well students do on these standardised tests.

Recent data by the College Board show that white and Asian students score higher in Mathematics as well as Reading and Writing compared to black and Latino students. Their data indicate that these students have a higher likelihood of earning a C or higher in various college courses.

To continue to rely on SAT/ACT scores is thus to shut many other deserving students from other races and financial background. Given the many facets of intelligence – which may not reveal itself in one’s prowess in multiple choice exams – and the future workplace’s growing need for skills untested in the SAT/ACT, continued reliance on these scores is getting harder to defend by the day.

Are students just the sum of their test scores? Source: Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

study by William Hiss and Valerie Franks on successful students from 33 public and private universities also showed that SAT/ACT scores are not good predictors of success.

The authors noted: “Few significant differences between submitters and non-submitters of testing were observed in Cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, despite significant differences in SAT/ACT scores.”

Yet, these aren’t problems unique to SAT and ACT scores alone. Bias and privilege are not completely non-existent in the touted alternatives of more “holistic” assessments, such as admission essays. How well an applicant writes the essay is also the result of his or her family income and race.

And despite all its problems, one cannot beat these tests’ usefulness in providing a uniform measure in evaluating students. Schools and teachers depend on these scores to see how they are growing, while international students use them as a necessary and effective barometer to show how qualified they are to warrant being admitted to American colleges and universities.

Furthermore, “holistic” can be achieved through a better recruitment process, ie. one where universities make more comprehensive assessments of students by actually taking in school attendance, interview performance and essays.

Research also shows that the SAT scores, despite other contradictory studies, have been good predictors of future performance in college and in the decades beyond it, such as earning doctorates, publications, university tenure, patents, and even income.

Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of colleges and universities’ recruitment teams and the goals they set when determining what their incoming student cohort is to be like.

As we wait for further research on this issue, we can only hope that schools are making full use of all available research to ensure that every student has a fair and just chance to enrol in the school of their dreams.

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