Con: Test-Optional Lacks Necessary Standardization

Audrey Ryan, Staff Writer

Despite the consistent attempts that have been made in recent years to level the playing field, higher education is not a meritocracy. Amidst DEI initiatives and a widespread push for greater inclusion, access to elite universities remains largely reserved for those within the upper echelon of society.

Take Villanova, a school that, as of 2017, remained staggeringly economically segregated, even when compared to other private institutions. The New York Times cited Villanova as drawing more than 75% of its students from the top 20% of family incomes, making it among the highest in the country.

The obstacles that hinder marginalized populations from acceptance to elite institutions are pervasive and frequently overlooked. Many students have an advantage in admissions due to legacy status, better access to extracurricular activities, enrollment in feeder schools and more, all privileges that are often taken for granted.

Enter standardized testing. Where college admissions is “holistic,” meaning that all aspects of a student’s background and application are taken into consideration while determining acceptance, standardized testing is perhaps the sole objective indicator of academic aptitude within one’s application.

Additionally, standardized testing stands as one of the sole metrics of performance that is not easily bolstered by privilege. While private tutors exist and undoubtedly provide an advantage, this is slightly mitigated by the provision of free preparational services, such as Khan Academy.

Furthermore, where even high school curriculums and means of determining GPA vary broadly by state, standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT provide a universal standard for achievement by which to measure students.

In the wake of coronavirus—when testing was shut down for the vast majority of 2020—the emergence of the test-optional policy, and in some cases, test-blind, as a widespread practice has allowed for students to decide whether submitting their test scores best benefits their application.

The adoption of this policy compounded with an unprecedented influx of applications to top-tier universities has resulted in diminished acceptance rates and confusion amid students, with source IvyWise revealing that some universities have dropped to as low as 3% of applicants receiving acceptances.

Much of the recent debate centered on standardized testing focuses on it being a reductive and dehumanizing method of evaluating students, as testing does not account for students who may not excel at quickly analyzing a passage and answering multiple choice questions regarding the topic, but may be outstanding at playing the guitar or volunteering at animal shelters.

Nonetheless, a low performance on the SAT does not invalidate a student’s skill in another area. Multiple metrics of measuring success coexist in order to capture the whole picture of a student’s aptitude and performance.

Further criticism centers on standardized testing’s inability to account for a student’s capacity for hard work, as well as a student’s emotional intelligence, which further lend one to success in college and beyond. These criticisms are valid and serve as the basis for college applications not solely consisting of grades and test scores. Other factors are equally important, but standardized factors remain a presence that must be taken into consideration.

While one can argue that standardized tests are unfair to students who do not excel at test-taking, many job sectors and graduate schools similarly require a standardized test for entry. The Law School Admissions Test, Graduate Admissions Management Test and the Medical College Admissions Test, among others, are all required for graduate school admission.

No, standardized exams are not always fair to students who struggle with such tests, but they are inevitable in the broader picture of upper-education and hiring practices.

While all aspects of college admissions are highly flawed and fallible, and upper academia remains a largely exclusive realm, standardized testing provides an objective means by which students who are disadvantaged can showcase their potential and gain acceptance to otherwise unattainable institutions.