Test optionality has been discussed among higher education institutions as advocates campaign to eliminate standardized testing in college admissions. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this debate, steering many prospective students from visiting SAT and ACT testing sites.
Most recently, Texas lawmakers proposed a bill forcing public colleges to consider standardized test scores in undergraduate and graduate admission decisions. Soon after, they scaled back the bill, which would now only require public institutions to review scores if an undergraduate applicant chooses to submit them.
The changes came after state officials expressed concerns a testing decree could disadvantage historically underrepresented students.
What Are The Concerns?
Many colleges and universities recently decided to do away with standardized testing requirements, including the SAT and ACT. Over three-quarters of colleges will not require either of these tests for admission this fall, and more than 400 Ph.D. programs have dropped the GRE.
Texas Republican Senator, Lois Kolkhorst, stated that some minority constituents voiced their concerns about the continued pause on testing mandates. Specifically, they are worried that their children excel on the exams but are not considered.
Test-optional critics often raise concerns similar to those Kolkhorst cited — that the exams’ diminished role in admissions will disadvantage students with poor grades, preventing them from shining when they do well on standardized tests.
Notably, a test-optional policy doesn’t prohibit an applicant from sending in a score. Exam providers who administer these tests maintain that their products can link historically marginalized students who perform well on the exam with scholarship opportunities.
But others argue that the SAT and ACT favor wealthy students who can afford extensive tutoring, thus limiting opportunities for their low-income and other marginalized peers.
Students Adversely Affected by Standardized Testing Requirements
Many higher education institutions and outside organizations continue researching whether students from marginalized communities are adversely affected by mandated standardized testing in the admissions process.
The pandemic exposed existing structural inequalities that are driving racial disparities. This is as true in education as it is in other sectors.
For example, APs are not widely available in low-income communities, raising the question of whether universities moving away from standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, will increase the utilization of other forms of testing. The same problem arises in this case: low-income students are excluded from access, and these test measures could demand equally rigorous and expensive preparation, including courses and tutoring.
The achievement gap has yet to close, and low-income communities may be disadvantaged. A July 2021 study stated: “Historically, low-income students as a group have performed less well than high-income students on most measures of academic success—including standardized test scores, grades, high school completion rates, and college enrollment and completion rates.”
Testing is necessary to help higher education understand how we can better address structural racism and other root causes of academic disparities. But if tests aren’t used to support Black districts, students, and families by leading to solutions for structural inequities. In that case, they will only facilitate the epidemic of racism that existed before the pandemic.