Cornell College joined a growing number of U.S. universities last week in dropping the SAT or ACT as a requirement in admissions. Given that studies show that the ability of standardized tests to accurately predict academic performance while in college is murky at best and discriminatory at worst, USC should reaffirm its commitment to diversity by leading the test-optional policy movement among top-tier schools and finally dropping its standardized test requirement for admissions.
Prioritizing standardized testing in university admissions disadvantages minority students — a demographic for which USC has promised to increase opportunities. Study after study has unearthed racial bias in the SAT and similar admissions tests. In the SAT, the critical reading and writing sections present concepts more familiar to those of white or affluent backgrounds. Jay Rosner, executive director of the Princeton Review Foundation, found that in the unscored section of the SAT, which pre-tests questions to be used on a future SAT, questions answered correctly by high-scoring test-takers — which tended to be white and of higher income — were used in future tests while questions that black students answer more correctly than white students were later thrown out of the scored section of the test. This process, according to Rosner, creates a cycle of persistent racial and socioeconomic bias.
These discriminatory testing practices have troubling implications for resulting diversity. According to psychologist Roy Freedle, black students score 100 points below white students of equal socioeconomic status in standardized tests. Thus, high-achieving students in standardized tests are disproportionately white.
Class also plays a big — arguably bigger — role in the inaccurate picture of intelligence presented by standardized tests. Higher-income students can hire tutors and attend SAT boot camps — a highly lucrative college admissions industry in which parents shell out thousands of dollars and students improve their scores by sometimes hundreds of points — while lower income students may scramble for resources to understand what the test is and how to take it, let alone individual strategies to succeed.
The success of tutors and boot camps calls into question the claim of standardized tests to be impossible to prepare for — and thus challenges the assumption that a standardized test can measure intelligence in a way that is not confounded by other variables.
That’s probably why standardized tests have proven to be an inaccurate picture of academic performance while in college. According to a study conducted by William Hiss, former Dean of Admissions for Bates College, those who submitted test scores to the university only had a .05 GPA difference compared to those who did not, and test submitters only had a .6 percent higher graduation rate than non-submitters. In short, the difference in academic performance was negligible.
If USC does not drop its standardized test requirement completely, it should at least reconsider its importance in admissions decisions. Through the National Merit Scholarship Program, USC is one of the few universities to offer half-tuition scholarships based only on PSAT scores. And while the University’s commitment to merit is commendable, it should reallocate these scholarships to apply to students more holistically in the admissions process.
Universities can no longer rely on the assumption that objective university admissions require standardized tests. For USC, it’s time for an objective university admission — the SAT is not working.
Sonali Seth is a sophomore majoring in political science and policy, planning, and development. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Mondays.