A Debate on Test-Optional Schools

Tyler Meeks, Lenses Editor

Ever since 1926, the S.A.T. (or Scholastic Aptitude Test) has existed as a way to measure a high school students’ level of preparation for college, and has served as an admissions measurement for university, along with G.P.A., high school transcripts, extracurricular activities, a personal essay and teacher recommendations.

However, in a nation-wide push beginning quite recently, many esteemed and prestigious colleges and universities throughout the U.S., such as the University of Chicago, Bowdoin College and Wake Forest University (among others), have begun to drop the requirement for standardized testing scores, which were typically needed for application review and admission.

This new wave of universities choosing to allow students to submit “test-optional” applications begs the question: “Should universities begin to switch to a test-optional admissions system?”

The most important thing to note when it comes to trends in standardized testing scores is, of course, socioeconomic status. While children of families who come from a higher socioeconomic background can afford the advantages of private standardized-testing tutors, multiple testing sessions and other things that go along with being from a high-income family, many students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds cannot afford such luxuries. In a system predicated on using testing scores to define “potential college readiness” and ability to contribute to the collegiate atmosphere of the university, it becomes unfair to lower-class students who cannot perform as well as their peers do, due simply to factors completely outside of their control. In fact, Billy R. Thomas from the University of Arkansas asserts that “[m]any minority students attend schools that are under resourced, have high student-to-teacher ratios, offer no AP courses, and are lacking in tutoring and counseling services. This places them at a distinct disadvantage and generates a small pool of minority students with high ACT or SAT scores.” With so many outside factors that impede low-income students from scoring as well as students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, colleges aim to eliminate the economic inequalities by allowing any student to choose to process their application without their standardized testing scores. 

Some, however, complain about the unfairness of a test-optional admissions process, especially after many students have already gone through the process of strenuously preparing for standardized testing, and even testing multiple times to achieve a score that they feel happy with. To this, it is important to note that, according to The Christian Science Monitor, that “[t]est-optional institutions continue to accept scores from students who want to share them, as one marker of achievement, and an average of 75% of their applicants still do.” Thus, the ability of a student to submit their application “test-optional” makes absolutely no impact to the application of one who submits theirs including their test scores and vice versa.

Many people, if the use of testing scores were to be abolished, wonder what other factors would be used in application review and how else a student’s likelihood for success at a certain university would be judged. At the University of Chicago, and many other prestigious institutions alike that employ the test-optional method, a student’s G.P.A. has been found to be far more predictive of future success than a test score. A test score measures a student’s ability to score well on a test from one day out of a given four year period, while the grade point average takes the student’s entire high school career into account, giving a stronger overview of the student’s academic strengths and weaknesses, and their growth or decline in academic performance. G.P.A. would be used concurrently along with extracurriculars, personal essays and teacher recommendations to determine a student’s academic aptitude and intellectual vitality. Each student would be examined through a specific lens to make sure they had done the most with their education in accordance to what had been previously provided for them. This means that a student who comes from a low-income household, who needs to work to help provide for their family, would not be expected to participate in as many after-school activities as a high-income student who does not need to work an after-school job. 

Hopefully, with a surplus of racial and economic disparities that are prevalent in standardized testing results, many prestigious universities will begin “going test-optional” in the near future.