Standardized testing has become so integrated into school life that it is hard to imagine a world without it. Most students in the U.S. have taken standardized tests, whether they are state-mandated or for college applications. Moreover, the SAT and the ACT have become standards for most colleges in the U.S. to measure and compare their applicants’ knowledge.
However, standardized testing this year looks very different than previous years. Due to COVID-19, most of the administered test sites have been forced to cancel, leaving hundreds of thousands of high school juniors and seniors little—or no—chances to take the tests. In response to these cancellations, many colleges and universities have shifted to become “test-optional” or even “test-blind” for incoming applicants.
Opinions on the changes in the requirement of standardized tests for college applications have been greatly varied. While some students had hoped to use the tests to strengthen their applications, others agree that dropping standardized tests is the way to go. Some might even argue that standardized testing had already been making their way out of the door and that this year’s events had only sped up the process.
The latter opinion comes from a surge in debate around the inequitable nature of these tests. By nature, standardized testing is supposed to test students on their college readiness based on their knowledge in mathematics, reading comprehension, and language. In theory, this is fair. Since everyone is given a similar test, the differences in scores should be a reliable variable to compare students’ applications. However, many have argued that these tests are unfair to students who have personal and socio-economic disadvantages. In particular, they disadvantage low-income students. Students who can afford to take test prep classes or take the test multiple times have a significant advantage over students who do not. Therefore, the scores from standardized tests are not always indicative of a students’ knowledge or readiness for college.
Conversely, there are also many students who naturally excel at standardized tests and planned to use their scores as a positive contribution to their applications. For them, going “test-blind” is disadvantageous because they cannot submit a component that would make their application stand out. Yet, I would argue that their situation is not comparable to low-income students because there are a lot of other opportunities for high school students to showcase their achievements and talents beyond tests. There are so many other significant components to college applications that tell so much more about an individual student than a test score.
In truth, there is very little about the application process that is truly equitable. Although dropping standardized testing scores may seem insignificant, it is the first step of many in creating a more equitable college application process.