ACT, SAT make a comeback

Posted: May 22, 2024

The SAT dates back to the early 1900s while the ACT came into the picture around the late 1950s. Both were created in the times of segregation of all kinds. Though it has been updated through the years, can it really be one of the key reasons for admissions to selective colleges such as Dartmouth, Yale, and as of recently Harvard.

These and other “highly selective” selective went to a “test-optional” admissions policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, when normal standardized testing procedures were upended. Meanwhile, many critics questioned whether the tests were fair indicators of students’ potential.

Now, several colleges and universities have reinstated a required test policy for the next admissions cycle. Even some public state universities have gone back to demanding test scores. Schools such as Purdue, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Georgia have all reinstated the requirement of a SAT or ACT score in their admissions applications. 

In 2022, the Minnesota State High School League debate teams wrestled with this: “Resolved, standardized test scores should not be used as a factor in undergraduate college admissions.” 

Arguments against testing included the history of racism and sexism tied to the tests, the vague topics students are tested on, the speed at which the test is taken, and how higher-income students can benefit from the test. 

There are many stereotypes about standardized testing. A study conducted by Forbes writer Mark Kantrowitz found that the SAT and ACT tests discriminate against low-income, minority, and female students in college admissions at selective colleges. 

“The cause is not intentional discrimination, but rather a statistical artifact of the way in which the SAT and ACT tests are scored,” Kantrowitz wrote. 

Students from higher-income families are more likely to score higher on standardized tests because they can pay for test prep and have other educational advantages. The vague topics students are tested on don’t fit everyone’s abilities or interests. Students looking to pursue a career in something other than the four vague test topics might get stuck as they aren’t able to show other abilities on the test, making it an unfavorable admissions element.

On the other hand, arguments supporting the use of standardized tests included the need for some standard tool for evaluating applications, because other measurements have flaws: high GPAs could be the result of grade inflation, recommendation letters can be very subjective, and personal essays could be ghost-written or generated by AI. Also, as the “Varsity Blues” scandal showed, some parents are willing to donate large amounts of money to schools in return for having their kids admitted as “athletes.”

Across America and even the world there is no set curriculum for grading, nor is there a set or required classes for each school to follow. Depending on the class and teacher a student’s grade can become inflated, not showing their true skill in the subject. 

As selective colleges revert back to using standardized testing in the admissions process post-COVID, students revert back to the age-old question. Should standardized tests be the benchmark to show a student’s college readiness?

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