The test-optional movement is alive and well. On October 28, 2015, the New York Times published an article entitled “Test Optional Surge.” The article said the following:
For those who argue that the SAT and ACT should be dropped as criteria for college admission, this has been an affirming year. Forty-seven colleges and universities have announced test-optional policies, bringing the total to more than 850, according to FairTest.
Well, two and a half years later that number is now over 1000, an average of approximately 60 new colleges every year since 2015.
Nevertheless, there are still several reasons why not every college has decided to go “test optional” and some of those reasons are very good. Here are four reasons that are all quite credible:
1) Every other major component of the application is very subjective. Grades not only vary from school to school but they vary from teacher to teacher within the same school, even within the same department. At one school I worked at, one teacher gave out A’s to less than 3 percent of his students and a teacher whose classroom was two doors over gave out A’s to over 60 percent of her students. Recommendations can vary based on the writing skills of the teacher. The student-teacher ratio also influences how well teachers know their students, and therefore how much nuance, depth, and substance they can communicate in the recommendation. Finally, some teachers write to persuade the reader of the worthiness of the applicant while other teachers paint the picture with the warts. In other words, they see their goal in writing the letter to be one not of persuasion but rather to accurately depict who the applicant really is.
Next we have the essays. Just this week I heard of a consultant in Texas who charges $15,000 for her essay-writing camp and the camp isn’t even very long.
Then we have all of the parents, teachers, and consultants who edit the work of the student so much that it really isn’t even their work. We also have the essays that students purchase online to misrepresent their writing ability. My former boss when I did boarding school admissions used to say, “Standardized testing is the one common benchmark in the file.”
2) Some colleges have done a lot of research on standardized testing and in many cases they have found that there is a fairly high correlation between test scores and grades. In many other cases, colleges have done research indicating that the combination of test scores and grades is a better predictor of student performance than just grades or just test scores alone. Can we blame a college for not wanting to jettison something that their internal research has validated?
3) Some of you may remember the test score cheating scandal at Great Neck North in Long Island in the fall of 2011. A student was caught taking the SAT for several other students at a price of around $3,000 per student. The fact that this was such a big story is the real news. How many students cheat on exams every day?
In a survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools, Donald McCabe (Rutgers University) found that 64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, 58 percent admitted to plagiarism, and 95 percent said they participated in some form of cheating, whether it was on a test, plagiarizing, or copying homework. The SAT and ACT are actually more reliably accurate than other metrics in the college application.
4) You hear a lot of about the costs of the ACT and the SAT, but that is really around test prep, not so much the test itself. Only a couple dozen colleges require the writing portion and writing; the test costs substantially less than an AP or an IB exam. Furthermore, there is a fairly comprehensive program in place to get test score waivers for students who find the $40-$50 SAT or ACT cost problematic.
You may get the impression I am anti test-optional, and nothing could be further from the truth. All I am saying is that I do not condemn colleges that are not test-optional, and I understand the reasons that, for all of the flaws, they still value the test-score metric.