Standardized Testing Should Remain Optional

Last year, the Admissions Office initiated a three-year pilot of test-optional admissions cycles in response to the difficulty of scheduling and sitting for standardized tests like the SAT during the pandemic. Given the inequitable nature of these tests, it is my hope that Oberlin will recognize the value in this shift, both for prospective students and for the College, and make it permanent.

In 2001, The New York Times published an article titled “Is It Time to Abolish the SAT?” Thus began the seemingly endless debate about the merits of standardized testing. Early arguments focused on whether the test was really a useful predictor of success and if its content matched what teenagers were being taught in school.

In recent years, however, the focus of the debate has shifted toward the ways in which standardized testing harms minority and underprivileged students. In 2019, the average white student scored a 1114 out of 1600 on their best SAT attempt, while the average for Black students was 933. Students whose parents had bachelor’s degrees scored an average of 1121, while those whose parents did not complete high school scored an average of 926. The ACT is no better. In 2018, the average ACT score for white students was 22.2; for Black students, it was 16.9.

Wealthy students often have access to high-quality test preparation and can pay to take the tests multiple times. It is also easier for students with means to receive testing and diagnoses for learning disabilities, allowing them to receive accommodations such as extended time.

With issues of testing inequity becoming more visible, many students are objecting to the use of standardized tests in college admissions. In December 2019, a group of students sued the University of California system over the consideration of standardized test scores in the admissions process, arguing that the tests are racist and ableist, and therefore unconstitutional. A settlement reached this May prohibits the UC schools from considering any SAT or ACT scores until 2025 for admissions or merit aid purposes.

During the most recent Oberlin admissions cycle, the first year in which test scores were optional, 56 percent of enrolling students for the College of Arts and Sciences class of 2025 chose not to submit standardized test scores, according to Manuel Carballo, Oberlin’s vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid. As the tests’ biases are made more apparent, students who value social justice will likely become more and more resistant to supporting these outdated metrics. If we want to keep recruiting progressive, socially-minded students, we have to make the admissions process appealing to that demographic.

“Oberlin is such a liberal college with pretty advanced ideology when it comes to equality — that kind of thing — compared to other schools, that it doesn’t surprise me that that many people didn’t submit,” said College first-year Simone Shapiro, who chose not to submit her scores.

Shapiro’s decision not to submit test scores was largely a moral one.

“The reason I chose not to submit them was partly because I just don’t agree with standardized testing,” Shapiro said. “It fundamentally goes against my … ethos.”

Not only does the decision to go test-optional appeal to socially aware students, it also opens the door to excellent candidates who would otherwise believe that their test scores would be deal-breakers. Shapiro said she scored lower than she hoped on the math section, which affected her admissions opportunities during her first round of college applications during her senior year of high school.

Having taken a gap year, Shapiro started her college applications process before the pandemic. Applying to college before the move to test-optional admissions processes, she felt hindered by testing requirements.

“It was really hard for me to find institutions that I wanted to apply to my senior year because most of them were really selective, and I didn’t have the scores to go to those schools,” she said. “Then this year, I was kind of like — you know what, screw it. If I don’t have to submit them then they’re gonna have to … look at me as a whole person.”

She also noted that a test-optional school was important to her even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Being test-optional was really important to me because it just showed that it prioritized actual learning and they weren’t trying to weed people out just because of a certain, single number. They actually put effort into finding people who wanted to go to that institution.”

Choosing to remain test-optional after the end of the pilot program will encourage a more diverse and socially aware group of students to apply and enroll at Oberlin.