In name of academic equality, Vassar must go test-optional

On Sept. 21, Reuters released an expose detailing that the College Board–the not-for-profit company responsible for designing and administering the SAT–acknowledged that the newly redesigned SAT was unfair, accord­ing to the company’s internal documents ex­amined by Reuters.

Yet they moved forward with the test any­way. Starting this year, students taking the SAT will be subjected to a test many profess to be inherently flawed. According to the ex­posé, the new test actually widens the previ­ously-decried score gap between upper-class and low-income students while also signifi­cantly exacerbating the score gap more spe­cifically on the math section between Black and Latinx students and white and Asian stu­dents.

The SAT has long been subject to crit­icism and studies proving that it does not accomplish its stated purpose of evaluating students–no matter their background–on an equal ground. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal published a study in which they showed that a student’s income level directly correlated with a high score (The Wall Street Journal, “SAT Scores and Income Inequality: How Wealthier Kids Rank Higher,” 10.07.2014).

They rebranded the SAT the “student af­fluence test” because of the way it gives ad­vantages to already-privileged students while setting low-income students back. While the redesign of the SAT was in part undertaken to address these issues, no design of the test can level the testing field. Students from wealthy backgrounds will always be able to afford more testing attempts (students requiring waivers are limited to two attempts), more prep materials, more tutoring and scores sent to more colleges than their low-income peers.

The new SAT does nothing to address its lengthy history of classism and instead, ac­cording to Reuters, relies more on word-heavy math problems that worsen the achievement gap for Black and Latinx students, as well as students whose first language is not English. By launching the new SAT, the College Board has further damaged the higher-education prospects of low-income students and stu­dents of color.

The SAT, however, is not the only prob­lematic element. Its disproportionate control over students’ lives only exists because many colleges require students to submit scores for admission, and Vassar is one of thousands of institutions across the US who do so. It is easy to see why: the College Board advertises the test as a way to compare the achievements of students from disparate backgrounds. Framed this way, the SAT almost seems like a way to avoid undervaluing students from low-income or low-opportunity backgrounds. However, this promise has rung hollow in re­cent years. According to a 2014 study (PBS, “Do ACT and SAT scores really matter? New study says they shouldn’t,” 02.18.2014), stan­dardized testing scores from the ACT and SAT are not statistically strong predictors of college success.

In light of this information, the Editorial Board of The Miscellany News would like to urge Vassar Admissions to reconsider its requirement of standardized test scores. At a college that prides itself on its holistic approach to admissions and expanding op­portunities for students of color and low-in­come students, the adoption of a test-flexible admissions policy would be consistent with Vassar’s principles and goals. It would make a meaningful statement in terms of Vassar’s commitment to educational opportunity, which is one of the most important parts of Vassar’s overall mission and public persona.

A test-flexible policy would be consistent with Vassar’s already holistic, creative and inviting application process. Valuing the in­dividuality of a student is not uncommon at Vassar; in no other way does the College endeavor to “standardize” its applicants. In fact, Vassar already encourages practices of destandardization through outlets such as the supplementary questions and Your Space on the Common Application. These are both means through which the College Admissions Office get to know students as people, not just as numbers such as their GPA, class rank, and standardized test scores.

Your Space is a particularly unique and effective component of the Vassar admission application that should set an example for the rest of the application process, for it pro­vides applicants with a free space to express anything about themselves or show anything that they’ve done in order to supplement what may slip through the cracks of an other­wise formulaic college application. Another strength of Vassar’s current application pro­cess is the optional interview with alumnae/i. Set up to be only a benefit for the student, these interviews are non-evaluative and allow Vassar to hear who applicants are as unique individuals, along with providing students with a chance to speak firsthand with some­one who attended Vassar about their experi­ences here.

All of these are strong elements of Vassar’s application process, the spirit of which is in direct contradiction with Vassar’s test-re­quired policy. While it would be ideal to be able to “standardize” a student to make the admissions process simpler, attempts at do­ing so have thus far proven ineffective, and have in fact exacerbated many of the inequal­ities they attempt to negate. For this reason, Vassar should consider changing its policy on requiring standardized tests to match the rest of its admissions process, which at­tracts national attention as one welcoming of students of disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Despite this praise, Vassar still has room for improvement, and re-assessing standardized testing policies is one potential avenue for making changes.

Were Vassar to change its requirements for standardized testing, it would not be alone or even in the minority among its peer insti­tutions. Many other liberal arts colleges like Vassar have opted to become test-optional, meaning that students can choose to submit a standardized test score if they wish, but not submitting scores will not count against them in the admissions process. The standardized test score then becomes supplementary in­stead of essential, a philosophy that prioritiz­es the applicant’s individual circumstances. Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Bryn Mawr College, Williams College and Bowdo­in College have all chosen this route–Bowdo­in since 1969–with some schools’ policies ex­cluding homeschooled and/or international students.

Based on the research that has shown the SAT’s ineffectiveness and bias, a revised ad­missions policy may be a step further toward academic equality. Were Vassar to consider making this decision, now would be an op­timal time with the imposition of the rede­signed SAT. This may be a substantial change, of course; however, we at The Miscellany News believe that the option appears quite promising, and warrants exploration, espe­cially given that our peer institutions have shown that it is a change that can be made successfully.

— The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least two-thirds of The Miscellany News Editorial Board

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