Group Of Teenage Students Sitting Examination In School Hall

Eliminating Standardized Tests Doesn’t Automatically Increase Diversity – but Here’s What Will

When the pandemic hit, the movement to end standardized testing requirements like the SAT for college admissions accelerated. Colleges and universities across the country recognized that it wasn’t possible for students to sit in crowded rooms and take long tests. Some colleges also continued to challenge the assumption that the tests provided an accurate assessment of a students’ academic capabilities. 

Advocates for eliminating standardized testing requirements said that one of the big reasons to do away with them is that it would increase higher education’s student body diversity, as test results often reflect a students’ resources, not aptitude.

Now, several admissions cycles into the pandemic, new reports show the results. College admissions officers told researchers that when they made standardized testing optional, they received significantly more applications from applicants of color and non-traditional students.

But that hasn’t actually led to colleges becoming more diverse. A 2021 study found that making standardized tests optional only led to a one percent increase in Black, Latinx, and Native American students. Other studies have indicated it had no impact at all.

What happened?

The answer, according to Kelly Slay, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, is that college admissions offices are understaffed, were completely “chaotic” during the pandemic, and ultimately never figured out how to replace standardized test scores with new ways to evaluate applicants.

In fact, says The Hechinger Report, many colleges appear to have replaced standardized test scores with metrics that are even more biased towards wealthy and white students, “such as letters of recommendation and expensive extracurricular activities. One college purchased a data service that ranked high schools and factored those high school rankings into each application. Students from underserved high schools received a lower ranking, an admissions officer explained. It wasn’t a fair process.”

It seems obvious to say that if colleges are going to eliminate standardized tests, they need to find ways of evaluating new applicants that don’t rely on standardized tests – but apparently that hasn’t happened yet. What kind of admissions reforms would help?

At Calbright, and across the California Community Colleges system, we have an easy answer for these kinds of questions: admit more students. Stop worrying about being elite, stop pretending college admissions is a meritocracy, and open the gates. Let more students in. Find more ways to say yes. 

It is by far the most equitable, fair, and socially beneficial solution. Everything else, including eliminating standardized tests, is just tinkering with a system that is already unfair. 

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