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 student majoring in biology works during a class break at California State University in November 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Student barriers

The SAT costs $55 for the 2021-22 school year. Gabrielle Piccirilli, who is majoring in English at Villanova University, wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal that high schools often encourage students to take exams multiple times to improve their scores, and these costs are barriers to low-income students "scoring as high as their intelligence allows".

"A student who can take the SAT four times after rigorous test-specific prep will have a better shot than one who can only afford to take it once without preparation outside of schooling-even if they are equally smart," Piccirilli wrote.

Schools seeking to diversify their student body are also concerned that test scores are often closely linked to a student's race and wealth.

A study in 2020 by researchers at the Brookings Institution found a wide racial gap in SAT results, particularly in math.

According to an investigation by the institution into the SAT math scores for more than 2.1 million high school graduates in 2020, white students scored an average of 93 points higher than black students, and 69 points higher than Hispanic or Latino students. Asian students scored 85 points higher than white students.

Of those scoring more than 700 points in the 800-point math test, 43 percent were Asian and 45 percent white, while 6 percent were Hispanic or Latino, and 1 percent black.

"Black, Hispanic or Latino students routinely score lower in the math section of the SAT-a likely result of generations of exclusionary housing, education and economic policy-which too often means that rather than reducing existing racial gaps, using the test in college admissions reinforces them," researchers said in their report. "While attempting to measure college readiness, the SAT both mirrors and maintains racial inequity."

These findings echo an analysis by Georgetown University researchers in 2019, who found that if the most selective US colleges and universities relied solely on SAT scores for admission decisions, their campuses would be wealthier, whiter and have more male students.

The biggest losers were black and Latino students, whose numbers would be cut nearly in half, with the principal winners being wealthy white male students, whose ranks would increase, according to the analysis.

After dropping the standardized testing requirement, some universities have seen significant increases in applications for admissions. The University of California received record-level applications for autumn last year and admitted its largest and most diverse undergraduate intake ever, according to its president's office.

Cornell University reported that it enrolled a more diverse intake, including a nearly 50 percent rise in the proportion of first-generation college students-those whose parents did not complete a four-year college or university degree.

The University of Chicago shifted to test-optional admissions in 2018 to expand diversity. Its current intake of freshmen has 56 percent more black students, 26 percent more Hispanic and Latino students, 33 percent more rural students and 36 percent more first-generation students than the intake that enrolled before the policy change.

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