Chronicle of Higher Ed op-ed: The Faux Righteousness of Test-Optional Admissions, by Stephen Burd (New America):
Standardized testing’s stranglehold over college admissions is breaking. The inability of millions of students to sit for the SAT and ACT exams in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has pushed hundreds of colleges to stop requiring prospective students to submit their scores. While Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and others have made it clear that this is just a short-term solution, many more colleges are rethinking the value of the tests to their admissions practices for the long term.
College leaders at these institutions are finally acknowledging what critics of standardized testing have been saying for years: That the SAT and ACT don’t provide much predictive value in determining which students will succeed in college; that the tests serve as a barrier to low-income and minority students who tend to score lower than their more wealthy and white peers; and that the exams have created a test-taking frenzy in affluent communities where wealthier families hire high-paid coaches and tutors to help their children learn the tricks of the tests, so they can artificially inflate their scores.
While some brave colleges, such as the California Institute of Technology, Catholic University of America, Dickinson College, some University of California campuses, and the entire California State University system, have chosen not to consider test scores at all, most colleges are taking a middle-ground approach known as “test optional” admissions. Going test optional means it is up to prospective students to decide whether to submit their scores. ...
Typically, when a college decides to go test optional, its leaders say the institution is doing so to become more socioeconomically and racially diverse. For example, that’s the line Laurie Koehler, then George Washington University’s senior associate provost for enrollment management, offered in 2015 when announcing the university’s move to test optional: “The test-optional policy should strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool,” she wrote, “and will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students, and students from low-income households.” ...
A paradox emerges in such statements. Despite recognizing that these tests disadvantage low-income and minority students and do not provide much predictive value, advocates for test-optional admissions say it is appropriate for colleges to continue allowing high-scoring students to submit their scores. “Going test optional is a great option because it empowers students to put their best foot forward in presenting their talents,” Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, told me when I interviewed him last year. In other words, students should be allowed to submit scores if it helps them make their case for why they should be admitted.
But recent reporting in The Chronicle and elsewhere shows why going test optional is nearly as inequitable as requiring students to submit scores. It turns out that students from affluent families don’t really believe that their odds of being accepted at a selective college are just as good whether they submit test scores or not. That’s why so many wealthy families have gone to extraordinary lengths to have their children take the SATs or ACT even in the face of a deadly pandemic, with some jetting around the country to find open testing sites. ...
Officials at test-optional colleges are well aware that those privileged students, who tend to do best on the test, will continue to submit their scores, and that their institutions benefit from their doing so. The truth is that many colleges that go test optional aren’t sincerely interested in increasing socioeconomic diversity on their campuses. Instead, they choose to go test optional because it allows them to artificially inflate their average SAT and ACT scores, a key component in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, since generally only students with good scores submit them.
This is a strategy that Miami University, in Ohio, considered pursuing in 2019. As part of its strategic planning process, Susan Schaurer, then the associate vice president for strategic enrollment management and marketing, wrote that the university “could take a bold step toward increasing its rankings in USNWR” by moving to test-optional admissions. Noting that colleges that have done so generally “see increases in their overall academic profile,” she wrote: “This process naturally allows schools that are test optional to submit test scores only for a portion of the applicant pool that chose to submit scores — as they self-selected and saw themselves fitting an already high student profile.” ... Miami University is hardly alone in considering moving to test optional for strategic enrollment-management reasons.