A quick pop quiz: The University of Chicago surprised the education world when it decided to A) no longer require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores; B) move to Indiana; C) stop admitting students from Canada; or D) issue each student a comfort pet.
Did you choose A? Good.
In an effort to lower barriers to admission, U. of C. has become the first top-10 research university to make submitting standardized test scores optional. The school coupled its decision with a few other changes — including expanded financial aid and scholarship opportunities — to increase access for first-generation, low-income and minority students.
Instead, the university says it will take a “holistic” approach to its admissions decisions, focusing more on students’ essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation, video introductions and other nontraditional materials.
This is a big change for the famously selective institution (it admitted just 7 percent of aspirants who applied for the 2018-19 school year), so it’s tempting to put a lot of weight on U. of C.’s choice. But it’s just the latest school to hop on the test-optional trend: Over the last 14 years, more than 200 colleges and universities have decided to ditch standardized tests as essential admission criteria, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
Which brings us to a question a lot of high schoolers are likely asking themselves: Why bother with these tests at all?
This isn’t a trick question, promise. The answer is simple: Because standardized tests matter for more than just college admissions.
For example: The Tribune reported in October 2017 that “two-thirds of Illinois public high schools posted below-average to rock-bottom scores” on the SAT administered across the state the previous spring.
SAT test scores are supposed to reflect students’ college readiness and their ability to meet academic standards in math, reading and writing. Illinois students could barely hit the average. And while some of the low scores could be explained away by a recent statewide switch from the ACT to the SAT, it’s disheartening to see students struggle with what is essentially a cumulative assessment of all they’ve learned in 12 years of school.
It can be hard to tell when schools are failing students. Standardized tests — for all their flaws — offer a uniform measure of accountability. They’re useful to evaluate individual student growth, measure teacher performance, and marshal federal and state funds. When taken in consideration with school attendance, graduation rates, advanced course offerings and college enrollment numbers, test scores help paint a picture of the health of a school and its district.
Yes, there are problems with these tests. Those who have the money can game the system by paying for tutors or taking the test multiple times. That’s why colleges are moving away from the ACT and SAT as indicators of a student’s “fit.”
But these tests aren’t just for colleges. They’re yardsticks for parents, lawmakers and — most important — students.
So if universities decide to skip the test, fine. But we hope high schoolers continue to show up on Test Day — with No. 2 pencils sharpened and at the ready.
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June 19, 2018 at 05:57PM