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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

As a high school senior, I have been swamped with overwhelming information about college admissions—figuring out majors, what to write for my essays, what extracurriculars to report, and more has been a struggle. However, what makes the already confusing college admissions process even harder is the ongoing debate on whether standardized admissions tests should be considered by colleges in admissions decisions. 

Standardized testing & college admissions

The SAT and the ACT are the most common standardized admissions tests; according to US News, nearly 2.2 million students took the SAT, while 1.7 students took the ACT. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students could not access testing centers. In light of this crisis, many colleges that previously required SAT or ACT scores for admission switched to a new policy called “test-optional,” where test results would be considered, but not required for applications. Some schools—most notably the University of California(UC) and California State University(CSU) systems—took a step further and decided to go “test-blind,” meaning that they do not consider test scores at all. 

As of the 2021-2022 application cycle, about 1700 schools were tested optional and 1000 of those schools were planning to keep that policy in the future. Test blind is significantly less common, but there are at least 44 schools—including the UCs and CSUs—that plan to test blind for the upcoming admissions cycle.

Though I myself have taken the SAT and am submitting my scores to schools, I believe that standardized tests should not be required to apply for college. 

Test blind admissions?

It took a pandemic—an event where everyone couldn’t reach testing centers—to convince schools to change their testing policies. However, barriers have been stopping some students from reaching the exam room long before COVID-19.

According to a 2019 study from the University of Southern California, there is a clear correlation between wealth and higher SAT scores. 2015 Inside Higher Study found a similar conclusion—the lowest average scores on the SAT were from students who had a family income of less than $200,000 while higher average scores were from students who earned more than $200,000.

“Standardized tests test memory retention and reasoning. In the past, they have been a good measurement for college admissions, but now with the advent of test prep classes, they are not accurate anymore,” said Samika Mathada, a senior at Leland High School.

Wealthier students have access to prep classes and more tests

There are a few clear reasons why this is the case. For one, students with more money can take the test more often. The tests are expensive.

Though lower-income students can get fee waivers, they only cover two free SATs. Wealthier students can access expensive test prep classes, but lower-income students may not have access to the same prep resources. 

These gaps only get worse when race is factored in. In 2020, a Brookings study found that Black and Hispanic, and Latino students score lower on the math section of the SAT—not because these racial groups are worse in math, or because they have a low potential to succeed in college. Rather, these groups may not get as many educational opportunities. 

A biased metric

Correcting for socioeconomic inequities is challenging, and in many cases, these factors are out of reach of the college admissions process. But when a metric of admission just showcases racial and socioeconomic inequalities instead of accurately determining a student’s potential to succeed, it’s clear that it’s a biased metric.

Schools shouldn’t be using tests that are skewed by non-academic factors. 

Of course, SATS and ACTs aside, other numeric measures of academic achievement are considered in the admissions process. Advanced Placement (APs) subject test scores and grade point averages (GPAs) are still used as a measure. However, these criteria are not straightforward either. A student’s score on an AP test, for example, is highly dependent on the quality of their class. But CollegeVine, a college-focused resource website, claims that AP scores are not highly weighted in college admissions. But SAT or ACT scores are widely required by schools to even apply and are heavily weighted – that means a low score or a lack of a score can disqualify a student from admission. 

GPAs vs Test Scores

A 2020 study from Educational Journal reports that GPAs predict college graduation rates five times more accurately than ACT scores and are not as affected by income and race as test scores. GPA has inherent differences across the grading spectrum across high schools.

Certain schools award higher grades for easier classes – a phenomenon called grade inflation. But colleges can and have taken numerous steps to correct issues with GPAs. For example, the UCs recalculate GPAs to account for systematic changes and colleges also take note of exceptionally hard classes in high schools. Moreover, colleges try to look at GPAs in a holistic manner, by taking the rigor of courses into account as well as the GPAs of students from the same high school. GPAs showcase four years’ worth of work and document the variety of courses a student takes—not performance on one test.

“Personally I do not have a good relationship with tests due to my ADD,” says Aamit Kancherlapalli, a senior at Leland High School.” I get more nervous the longer a test is. Even though I had time accommodations on the SAT, I still felt rushed. I think paying attention to students’ improvement in grades is a better way to see whether or not they are ready for college as it shows their ability to grow in an educational setting.”

Test-optional schools have more applicants

It’s not clear whether test-optional and test-blind policies will last. Some schools have only confirmed that their test-optional policies will continue through the 2022-2023 cycle. The UC and CSU system has a 2025 deadline to determine whether they should stay test-blind or switch to a new admissions test. Test-optional policies offer more choice for students, but as the UCs argues, the exams do not predict college grades accurately. 

What is clear though is that removing the test requirement has increased application rates—the number of people applying to college increased by 21 percent in 2020, even though colleges have a limited number of places.

What’s clear is that removing this barrier has allowed more people to consider schools they previously determined were out of reach. The Common App reported that the number of applications from students who qualified for a Common App fee waiver and first-generation students has increased since the pandemic. 

I submitted my standardized testing score to colleges. I made this decision with the knowledge that the colleges I am applying to are test-optional or test-blind. That means that they aren’t going to knock students without the privileges or the opportunities I had for not doing well on one test. 

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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Pavana Upadhyaya

Pavana Upadhyaya is a Junior at Leland High School in San Jose, California. She likes to read nonfiction in her free time.