At issue: Admissions is making standardized test scores optional
Our take: It’s a good step toward equity in admissions
We all remember those dreaded Saturday mornings when we had to wake up early, number two pencils in hand, to fill in bubbles for four hours. For some, it was the most stressful time of their life, not only because of the pressure of taking a test, but because of the prospect of not getting into college due to a single test score. High schools emphasize the importance of SATs and ACTs—some have gone so far as to make standardized testing mandatory. But Emerson will join hundreds of other colleges and universities in making standardized testing optional for applicants, starting fall 2018.
Although standardized testing has been the norm for years, this method of academic evaluation is extremely outdated. Multiple studies have already shown how these exams are not accurate assessments of students’ knowledge and skills. It should also be noted that at its core, standardized testing has always offered an unfair disadvantage for low-income and minority students. For one, the fees are expensive—both the SAT and the ACT cost over $40. Once you throw in the essay portion, that price goes up to nearly $60.
In fact, the origin of this exam style was a direct result of early twentieth-century racism. In order to supposedly protect the quality of white American education, standardized testing was introduced as a defense method against “racial mixture” and religious minorities.
Unfortunately, the underlying discrimination of these exams has only escalated over the years. The gap for test scores between students from high-income and low-income backgrounds has increased by nearly 60 percent since 1960, and is now almost double the size of the gap separating white students and students of color.
Why should students be penalized simply because they are unable to afford a specialized SAT tutor, or because their school doesn’t offer rigorous ACT prep classes? Colleges that require applicants to submit standardized test scores are inherently exclusive. It’s no wonder that more than 925 U.S. colleges and universities no longer use ACT/SAT test scores as a means to judge students’ “college-readiness.”
Besides, how well can standardized testing predict success at Emerson? Our curriculum is heavily project-based, not test-based; even some of our science and ethics classes opt to deal with essays and creative endeavors over pop quizzes. And despite the misconception, we’re not a liberal arts school in the classical sense—it’s no secret that specialized skills are more valuable here than general aptitude. We have a grand total of two math classes.
With that in mind, we should be proud of Emerson for getting rid of standardized testing requirements (even though we’re still bitter that we had to take them). Not having SAT requirements levels the playing field for less-privileged students.
But, unfortunately, our recent tuition increases halt that progress. Emerson sent out a letter to parents announcing that tuition would increase by 4.5 percent for the next academic year. With limited financial aid offerings, forcing some students to work to pay the heft of their tuition, this keeps out the same people who could have been disadvantaged by SAT scores. Those who manage to make ends meet to attend Emerson may be forced to leave if tuition continues to increase beyond their means year after year, as it has for over 20 years now.
Eliminating standardized testing is progress, but it’s superficial without taking into account the greater challenges that come with succeeding in higher education.
Bret Hauff, who wrote this week about the tuition raise, did not contribute to this editorial.