The End of Standardized Testing?


George Washington University (where I attended law school) recently announced that the SAT and ACT will no longer be required as part of the college application. You can read more about it here.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but they haven’t yet coalesced into a coherent and consistent idea. So, for now let me list out some ideas and let you do the analysis.

- Optional isn’t outlawed. As long as some students are allowed to submit standardized test scores, this policy doesn’t seem to have much bite. Presumably, the applications with test scores included will be ones with good scores, while the likely conclusion to be drawn from omitted test scores is that they weren’t very good. This isn’t the Fifth Amendment. Your silence can (and probably will) be used against you.

- Most of the students I’ve worked with and seen in my years in the the industry who haven’t been able to put together college-level standardized test scores were lucky that they struggled with the SAT. The truth of it is that most of these students were woefully underprepared for the academic rigor that that college offers, and encountering resistance earlier in the process rather than later is probably best.

- At the same time, I am very aware that the students I see are a very biased sample who have had many more advantages and opportunities to succeed since birth than the average kid. Socio-economically disadvantaged students score lower on average on standardized tests. I don’t attribute that to racial bias or fundamental problems with the questions being asked, but rather to two factors. The first is that lack of access to the best instruction and extra help has often put these students behind their peers since elementary school. The second is that these students tend to have less access to specialized instruction that can help unlock standardized testing. The combination of these factors produces students who are both less prepared for the SAT and less prepared for college. However, if given a shot, some of those students will thrive in an academic environment where they are given the tools to succeed. Sadly, others will be unable to overcome the deficit. Removing the requirement of standardized test scores will likely increase the number of those types of students, and that’s a situation colleges need to prepare themselves for if this trend continues.

- Removing a standardized test requirement increases the weight of high school grades. If you want an inconsistent and unreliable scale, use high school grades. The differences between the tens of thousands of high schools around the country are massive, and asking colleges to understand the idiosyncratic processes that led to each students GPA is just asking for trouble.

At minimum it’s an interesting topic. What’s your take on colleges not requiring standardized test scores?