Standardized Testing is Becoming Increasingly Optional - Age Week


By Davina Bhandari

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Some standards are not meant to survive history.

This might come as a pleasant, albeit late, surprise to those generations of standardized test-taking students who have only known to prepare for and fear the SAT and ACT exams that have loomed over the college application process. For those just beginning the application process, it might be a refreshing change of approach.

So who is still taking the SAT and ACT? For Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, the real question is: Who needs it?

FairTest is currently keeping track of the schools that have made such standardized tests optional in their application criteria, which includes more than 800 and continues to grow. According to Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, these tests are not and never have been a fair way to gauge a student’s capabilities.

The list is comprised of “test optional” and “test flexible” colleges and universities, or schools that have completely de-emphasized the use of these tests. What students do in and out of school–with their teachers as well as independently–is being given greater recognition in light of this shift.

While colleges and universities are busy reevaluating their philosophies, the College Board is trying to keep up by offering a new version of the SAT test. However, Schaeffer sees the proposed redesign as purely cosmetic.

Those students who will go in to take their SAT in Spring 2016 will get first glance at the College Board’s facelift: elimination of esoteric vocabulary words in favor of relevant words more likely to be seen at a college level; removal of the essay section; and the removal of the penalty given if a question is answered incorrectly.

These changes might be a step in the right direction; upon closer inspection, these changes might also be the standards that tests like the ACT already have in place.

“[The redesign] doesn’t deal with the test’s fundamental flaws,” Schaeffer said. “The changes they are making… simply make the SAT look more like the ACT.”

According to Schaeffer, those schools that aren’t following the test-optional trend are driven, simply, by inertia: they’ve done it all along. Additionally, standardized tests provide more than just numbers: they also provide useful, and essentially free, data in terms of recruiting and enrolling a balanced class with demographic information. With students from privileged families offering the fuel in terms of funding the preparation and test-taking process, some schools have no reason to lose out on the provisions.

The College Board declined to comment on the issue. They did offer this statement:

“We respect the right of college and universities, many of whom are our members, to set admissions policies that are best for their individual institution. We continue to research ways to expand access to opportunities for all students.”

Those more likely to be on the side of College Board and ACT might be those of previous generations who see the gradual removal of these tests as a “dumbing down” of the application process. What is being done, as an alleged push for fairness, is being perceived by some as an excuse for students to slack off. Schaeffer debunks this perception:

“There’s the evidence from the schools that have gone test optional, who find that when they eliminate test scores they get a higher quality application pool: more kids who are in the top 10 percent of their class, more kids who had done extraordinary things in high school but may not score well on standardized tests.”

Test-optional schools are giving students flexibility and power in choosing how they best wish to paint a picture of themselves; it might be that standardized tests are becoming an archaic medium.