February 28, 2024

The SAT

Yale University said on Thursday it would reinstate a requirement that applicants submit standardized test scores after a four-year hiatus for the COVID-19 pandemic… Yale's decision, which will impact applicants planning to enroll in fall 2025, followed announcements from Dartmouth University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that they would reimpose standardized testing requirements…

“MIT did so in 2022, saying tests were a key predictor of student success. Dartmouth announced its decision this month, after conducting a study, opens new tab that found standardized tests could greatly help the admissions team identify ‘high-achieving less-advantaged applicants.’” Reuters

Both sides agree with the colleges’ decisions to require the SAT:

“The core charge against standardized tests is that they systematically disadvantage poorer students and certain students of color. Seventeen percent of kids from families in the top 20 percent of earners, the New York Times found, score at least 1300 on the 1600-point SAT; only 2.4 percent from the lowest income quintile do so. Of the top 0.1 percent whose parents can easily pay for world-class tutoring, the share is 38 percent. Racial score gaps are less dramatic. But they’re significant, especially in math…

“[But] other factors considered in any holistic admissions process, such as essay quality, extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations, tilt even more in favor of White and well-off students, many of whom have college admissions officers at their high schools to teach them how to polish their applications… Most research on the past years’ test-optional and test-blind policies has not shown a dramatic rise in diversity attributable to them… Bringing back the SAT [is] the right move.”

Editorial Board, Washington Post

“It’s worth pointing out that some of the wealthiest applicants never stopped testing and submitting scores when possible… ‘I can tell you that a number of things on the application are ‘optional,’ but to get into the Ivy League and other elite colleges, an applicant has to go above and beyond the minimum requirements,’ [Adam Nguyen, founder of Ivy Link] said…

“And for wealthy students, that can mean paying firms like his tens of thousands of dollars to help curate outstanding extracurricular resumes, design showcase projects, and bolster their grades. Comparatively, he said, ‘standardized tests are probably the avenue where kids’ can excel with fewer resources.”

Fabiola Cineas, Vox

“Researchers who have studied the issue say that test scores can be particularly helpful in identifying lower-income students and underrepresented minorities who will thrive. These students do not score as high on average as students from affluent communities or white and Asian students. But a solid score for a student from a less privileged background is often a sign of enormous potential…

“The data suggests that testing critics have drawn the wrong battle lines. If test scores are used as one factor among others — and if colleges give applicants credit for having overcome adversity — the SAT and ACT can help create diverse classes of highly talented students. Restoring the tests might also help address a different frustration that many Americans have with the admissions process at elite universities: that it has become too opaque and unconnected to merit.”

David Leonhardt, New York Times

“Standardized test scores — administered in a controlled environment — are really the only objective statistics an admissions officer has to work with. When looked at holistically, they can actually help disadvantaged kids shine by showing admissions officers their raw cognitive potential. In fact, the Dartmouth researchers actually found it was less-privileged applicants who were hurt the most by ‘test optional policies.’…

“Students from tough backgrounds with scores in the 1400s, lower than the average 1500 out of a possible 1600, would have been considered excellent in the context of their upbringing by Dartmouth. But, since they were slightly below average, many such students decided to withhold their scores, wrongly thinking they would harm their admission prospects. Without their test scores, admissions officers were less able to quantify their qualifications — and some students who would have gotten in with scores were rejected without them.”

Rikki Schlott, New York Post

“Clinical studies have shown that standardized testing does exactly what you expected it would: It identifies intellectually gifted children from all strata of society, but even more crucially allows talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds (whether economic or minority) to shine in a way their local educational opportunities (or a chaotic home life) might never have permitted…

“It forms the essence of what any just conception of America as a so-called meritocracy was supposed to be about: You might have gone to Phillips Exeter Academy and had the best SAT tutors available to you — but this kid over here living above his parents’ corner store and studying when he doesn’t have to mind the shop? He took it once and scored a 1590.”

The Editors, National Review

“In an academic landscape where standards vary widely among high schools, standardized test scores allow applicants from obscure backgrounds a chance to prove their ability to handle a rigorous college

“Studies show that high school grades are increasing while test scores have stagnated, indicating significant grade inflation. Since students who haven’t demonstrably mastered the material manage to receive As, high school GPA has dramatically weakened as a signal for admissions purposes… It finally seems like universities are starting to accept a reality that was always obvious in the first place: standards matter.”

Corey Walker, Washington Examiner

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