Every college hopeful dreads the day they must make their way to a local high school, weave through a sea of nervous fellow students and take the test that will determine, in part, their future prospects. Standardized tests, particularly the SAT and ACT, reduce the skills learned from hundreds of hours spent in the classroom to a single test, taken one morning.
But what if this agony were optional rather than mandatory? More than 900 colleges and universities in the United States are test-optional, meaning students can choose whether or not to submit SAT or ACT scores when applying. This growing trend recognizes that standardized tests are not only an outdated way of measuring preparedness, but also an unethical one. USC must follow this momentum and also go test- optional.
Higher education’s fixation on standardized testing has given rise to a billion-dollar industry responsible for disconcerting disparities between affluent high school students and their lower-income peers. Higher-income students can hire tutors and attend SAT or ACT “boot camps,” which can cost upwards of several thousand dollars.
While wealthy students learn how to crack the code of the SAT or ACT, lower-income students may struggle to pool the resources necessary to understand the expectations of the test and the basics of taking it, let alone specific strategies to improve their chances of success.
All students take the same test, so standardized testing supposedly creates a level playing field for students seeking admission to college. However, evidence suggests that standardized testing has become a faulty measure of preparedness that favors students from affluent backgrounds.
In response, many colleges across the nation have begun to adopt test-optional policies. They’ve also found that these policies have increased diversity without sacrificing student quality. In 2014, William Hiss, the former dean of admissions at Bates College, published the results of a 30-year study examining 123,000 students from 33 public and private test-optional colleges. Hiss found that there were no significant differences in graduation rate or cumulative GPA between those who did and those who did not submit test scores on their applications. Moreover, those who did not submit test scores were more likely to be first-generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, women and students with learning differences — all historically disadvantaged groups who could benefit the most from college admissions.
USC has demonstrated its commitment to creating a diverse and equitable learning environment. At the University, we pride ourselves on granting opportunities to students of all backgrounds. We have one of the largest financial aid programs in the country, providing two-thirds of all USC undergraduate students some form of need-based aid. At the Foshay Learning Center, we provided academic support to first-generation students — 30 of whom committed to the University last year. In addition, one in seven of our Class of 2021 admits is a first-generation college student.
While the University has taken major strides to empower disadvantaged groups, making standardized testing optional would also reflect the University’s ethos on admissions. USC prides itself on its holistic evaluation of applications for admission, emphasizing that academic performance, while important, should only be one factor in determining a student’s acceptance. The University wants to find students who are well-rounded, not necessarily students who can get a perfect score on a standardized test that, quite frankly, is not an accurate measure of college success.
Most of the schools that have gone test-optional are small liberal arts colleges. By adopting this policy, USC has the opportunity to uphold its mission and pioneer these ideals among large, highly selective research universities.
On balance, considering standardized testing’s role in perpetuating inequality and its inability to indicate a student’s preparedness for college, the right decision is apparent: USC should go test-optional.
Daily Trojan Spring 2017 Editorial Board