Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
It’s not surprising that the College Board, the organization behind the SAT and AP exams, decide to stop offering its SAT writing and subject tests during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move comes at a time when the usefulness of standardized testing is more in question than ever, as the pandemic essentially put an end to whatever use colleges got out of standardized tests.
High school students have found it nearly impossible to schedule a testing date, so many colleges had no choice but to suspend their testing requirement. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 500 schools, including the University of Maryland, have removed the SAT or ACT requirement from their 2021 applications. Almost all colleges have been forced to look at other qualities in their admissions process this year as they move to a test-optional policy.
Fewer students than ever are paying to take the specialized tests, and the College Board wasn’t making money from them, so they were discontinued. But the changes shouldn’t stop there. It’s time that colleges adopt a test-optional policy permanently.
The testing requirement is a significant barrier of entry for many students. The structure of the standardized testing system has long been recognized as inherently classist. There are fees to take the exams and to send scores to colleges, and beyond direct costs, there are even more fees to hire a tutor if a student wants to increase their chances of getting a good score. These costs are prohibitive for many poorer students and have led students from low-income households to score lower on average than students from high-income households.
It’s impossible to fully discuss the classism of standardized testing without also mentioning race. Race and class are completely intertwined when it comes to standardized tests. Students of color consistently receive lower scores on their SATs than white students, largely because of disparities in economic status.
The only benefits of keeping the test requirement will go to the colleges, not the students. The SAT or ACT requirement gives admissions offices a standard numeric value which makes it easy for them to rank the applicants. It’s a process that not only disproportionately harms certain groups of students — it also robs applicants of the individualism the schools say they want to foster. Colleges should focus more on qualities that showcase students’ individual strengths — such as their application essays or achievements outside the classroom — along with academics, instead of assigning them a numeric value.
However, even the incentives for colleges to keep the requirement seem to be dwindling. Using SAT scores in admission processes has never increased the academic performances of their student populations; there is no evidence that students with high scores perform any better in college than students with lower scores.
As more and more schools, including the entire University of California system, permanently move to test-optional or test-blind admissions, schools such as this university, which has not made a permanent change, will be forced to continually justify their decision. This university and other schools love to throw around words like “diversity” and “inclusion” every chance they get, but they still use a process that actively hinders these efforts. If they want to truly diversify our campus, they need to break down barriers of entry, not keep them up.
Much has been written about what will and won’t return to normal in the post-COVID world. Let’s make sure that standardized testing is one of the things that doesn’t return. The pandemic has given schools an opportunity to see what college admissions look like without standardized tests. Despite the laundry list of systemic issues it has, higher education can be a wonderful thing. Getting rid of standardized testing will only help more students reap its benefits.
Adam Cullen is a sophomore government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.