College Pete

SAT (and ACT) Crimes & Misdemeanors: The Case For Test Optional Admissions

SAT (and ACT) Crimes & Misdemeanors: The Case For Test Optional Admissions

This Saturday (Dec 3rd) is the last time this year that a student can sit for the SAT; and next Saturday (Dec 10) will offer the last 2011 bite of the ACT apple.  With this in mind, I’ve got a message for all students who are bright and talented, and worried that their test scores will keep them from getting into a competitive college or university!

Not sure if you caught this but just before Thanksgiving, 13 Long Island (NY) high school students were implicated in a ‘pay for play’ SAT test-taking scheme.  (Since then, two more students have turned themselves in.)  Aah… another day, another scandal. 

Now to be fair, as crimes go, this test-taking scam obviously pales in comparison to what’s going on to the North and West of Nassau County  (at Syracuse and Penn State), but I doubt this is an isolated incident, and it does raise some broader and generally disturbing questions about the role of standardized tests in the college admissions process.   Which is, in a word, disproportionate, as a factor on the highly subjective and influential US News & World Report ranking system, in the high school classroom and in the home.

For starters, not only will a four hour test fail to capture a student’s essence, it isn’t even a reliable indicator of future success.  That honor belongs to a student’s transcript. Most research suggests that high school grades are the only relatively accurate predictor of college grades.  Furthermore,  the standardized college tests have a well-documented  racial and socio-economic bias.  SAT scores tend to be better at predicting a student’s race and economic background than her ability.  This is NOT just my opinion – it has been well chronicled in books and papers for years.

That said, standardized tests aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Last year the largest number of students ever took the SAT, some 1.65 million according to the College Board (the organization that created and profits from the SAT).  But there is a real and growing movement afoot to de-emphasize their importance.  And some really great colleges and universities are beginning to adapt their admissions policies accordingly.
Today, there are currently 850 schools that de-emphasize standardized tests in their admissions process.  And that list is growing.  Some of the universities on this list are considered quite prominent nationally.  And many are among my favorites:

American University (where Jill got her MBA), Smith College (where my mom went), Union College, Rollins, Marist, Muhlenberg, NYU, Wake Forest, Bates, Bowdoin, Connecticut College…

For more information about ‘test optional’ policies or to view a full list of test optional schools, check out the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.  And remember, even if you don’t see your dream school on this list, you are way more than your score.  The admissions process at ALL colleges (whether on this list or not) is about determining who will be a good fit for their particular campus, and most will consider any and all information that expands their view of a particular student.  That means your grades count; as do your extracurriculars, your essays, even your tweets (and yes, your test scores).  So, mind your manners; put your best face on your Facebook and study hard, and have some perspective when it comes to the standardized side of the test.

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