Heated debate triggered as more US colleges go 'test optional'

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily | Updated: 2022-05-02 08:16
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A teacher instructs a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School. [Photo/Agencies]

Centers closed

Elizabeth Venturini, a US college consultant and author of Tiger Mom Wisdom-US College Admissions Success Through Creativity, Character, and Community, said, "Prior to COVID-19, colleges prioritized admissions based on the rigor of coursework and high test scores.

"During the 2020 and 2021 admissions cycles, testing centers were shut down to protect students against COVID-19. College admissions had to rely more heavily on other criteria for student admittance."

Venturini said that as institutions shift to "test-optional" or "test-blind" admissions, their essays, writing supplements, extracurricular work, teacher and counselor recommendations, and community service will begin to gain more importance in the admissions process.

Test-blind admission means that even if a student submits the SAT or ACT score with his or her application, the score will not be visible to admission officers. The University of California, for example, has permanently adopted the test-blind policy. Test-optional means that students can submit a score, but don't have to if they think it won't help them.

Venturini said test-optional gives students a choice on how to best present themselves to an admissions team. "If the school states it is test-optional, students should still be encouraged to take college admissions tests, particularly if they are good test-takers. Use it to your advantage. A good SAT score can only help the student for admission to the desired school, especially if the student scores within the required top range to be considered for admission," she said.

While many universities are extending their test-optional policies, at least one prestigious institution is abandoning such policies after dropping the requirement for two years during the pandemic.

In March, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, announced it would again require SAT or ACT test scores for admission in autumn next year. It said the tests help identify whether applicants are academically prepared.

Stu Schmill, MIT dean of admissions, wrote in a blog about the decision, "Our ability to accurately predict student academic success at MIT is significantly improved by considering standardized testing-especially in mathematics."

He said the tests "also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT". Schmill added, "We believe a requirement is more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy."

Proponents of test-optional admissions argue that standardized testing affects the chances of applicants who routinely do not perform well in such tests, such as immigrant students, those whose parents did not go to college, and black, Hispanic and Latino students.

Critics of SAT and other standardized tests also have long been worried about race and income inequality influencing results. They criticize standardized tests for rewarding students who have the financial resources to hire tutors or who enroll in expensive preparatory programs to improve their scores, leaving low-income students at a disadvantage.

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