By Kaylee Arndt
There seems to be no end to the stresses of high school: lengthy assignments, essays with looming deadlines, frightening pop quizzes, and… the dreaded ACT or SAT test. These two standardized tests play a major role in determining college acceptance and scholarship decisions, so high schoolers have a right to stress over them — well, they did have a right to stress.
Although nearly all colleges have gone test-optional for the 2020-21 admissions cycle, many have also begun adopting permanent test-optional policies. This shift seems like an excellent thing: many people believe the ACT and SAT are biased against minority students and students of low socioeconomic status — and test-optional is the solution to these problems. Furthermore, many test-optional supporters argue ACT and SAT scores are poor indicators of success in college. I, too, once believed these points to be true, but after some extensive research on the effects of dropping testing requirements, I am no longer convinced.
One of the biggest arguments of those pushing for colleges to turn to test-optional is the ACT and SAT discriminate against minority students and students of low socioeconomic status; however, the Washington Post points to a study by scholars at the University of Georgia and published by the American Educational Research Association of 180 liberal arts colleges, 32 of which have test-optional policies. The study found when schools dropped their ACT and SAT requirements, a change lay not in increased diversity but instead in the school’s selectivity because of higher application numbers, which, in turn, had a large effect on a college’s rankings.
Another study not only came to this same conclusion regarding a boost in college ranks but also provided evidence that the SAT test is a valuable indicator of future success in college. This study by Howard Warner, the Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners, focused on Bowdoin College, a prestigious liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine, that has famously been test-optional since 1969. The study looked specifically at the class of 1999 and the differences between the class’s 273 students who submitted SAT scores and 106 students who did not submit scores. The study discovered the students who submitted SAT scores had a higher G.P.A. in their first-year courses than those who did not submit. However, all of these students did take the SAT: some simply choose not to submit their scores. The study was actually able to gather these unsubmitted scores, and, indeed, the average of these scores was lower than the average scores of the students who did submit, making it reasonable to conclude that higher test scores on the SAT correlate with better performance in the college classroom — as other various studies have also concluded. The other interesting factor to consider is that if these students had chosen to submit their scores and been accepted, it would have decreased the average SAT score of the class of 1999. Guess what is one of the major factors in college rankings such as the esteemed U.S. News rankings? Average SAT and ACT scores.
There is one additional group of students often forgotten in the discussion of whether SAT and ACT scores should be considered in the college application process: students who attend small, rural schools. According to Angela Farmer, assistant clinical professor of honors education at Mississippi State University, in an article by The Conversation, because these students have limited access to advanced placement classes and high-level STEM classes, highly selective colleges often overlook them. Priscilla Rodriguez, vice-president of college readiness assessments for the College Board, said in a Washington Post article that high SAT and ACT scores are often what can distinguish these students; if standardized testing is dropped, these smart students may lose the opportunity to be seriously considered by more selective colleges.
In conclusion, adopting test-optional policies will not increase diversity on campuses and may harm the prospects of students from small, rural schools. Furthermore, colleges adopting permanent test-optional policies may not be doing so for the good of high schoolers’ stress levels, but instead for the good of their selectivity and rankings. Sorry, high-schoolers, but for these alarming and researched-backed reasons, SAT and ACT requirements should not be eliminated.
Kaylee Arndt is a student at Fillmore Central High School. She is one of nine area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 22nd year.