I say “be gone” to the SAT and ACT standardized tests in Colorado. They are poor indicators of college readiness and have become a barrier to achieving a more diverse student body.
We’ve had a one-year dress rehearsal for living without those tests. It’s time to eliminate them entirely or at least downgrade their status from mandatory to optional. Let’s not hold it against students if they choose not to take the tests. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced those in higher education to adjust to a world without the SAT and ACT scores for the incoming freshman class that gathers in fall 2021.
In the big picture, these tests seem to just get in the way. State governing boards must accept their responsibility to help the middle class grow, not be a gatekeeper that prevents minority or disadvantaged students in our state from partaking in the best educational options for which they are qualified.
It’s tantamount to discriminating against students who already have two strikes against them, and it must stop.
The Colorado legislature has done its part. In the 2020 session, it passed a bill that said because of the pandemic, SAT and ACT scores were not required for college admission this fall. Now let’s hope the Legislature introduces a bill to make it permanently optional for students to be tested.
Better yet, eliminate the tests entirely, because we need to open the doors for more qualified and diverse students. These tests serve only to close those doors.
This is not just Colorado talking. The pandemic has caused hundreds of colleges nationwide to re-evaluate the role that standardized tests play in their admission policies.
More power to the University of Denver, Colorado College and Regis University, none of which require ACT or SAT scores from applicants.
A study by the American Educational Research Association concluded that a student’s high school grade-point average is five times more likely to predict academic success than ACT scores. It also concluded that high school grades are the greatest predictor of college performance because standardized tests are strongly influenced by income levels, discrimination, race and parents’ educational levels, among other things.
Racial and economic disparities lower the value of standardized test scores, according to the College Board.
For example, take the SAT test, whose highest score is 1,600. Students’ mean SAT scores in 2019 were 1,223 for Asian students, 1,114 for white students, 978 for Hispanic or Latino students and 933 for Black students.
Economic factors also figure in. The most recent figures, which come from the high school class of 2016, were an average score of 1,230 for students coming from households with income of more than $200,000; 1,120 for incomes between $80,000 and $100,000; and 1,060 for incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.
The test scores have little impact on college graduation rates. For those scoring between 900 and 1,090, about 81% graduated from college. For those with scores between 1,100 and 1,600, about 83% did.
Finally, the return rate for students for the second year of college was 90% (scores of 900 to 1,090) and 94% (1,091 to 1,600).
The common thread here is that there was little difference between those that scored higher and those that scored lower on these tests.
Toss them out or allow them to be optional, which would mean neither test score would be required to be included with an entrance application. But if a student does submit such scores, they shouldn’t be penalized for taking the tests.
Colleges and universities should place more weight on the student indexes — such as their GPA; extracurricular activities; a good mix of academic courses; taking any college-level and/or advanced placement courses; International Baccalaureate degrees; work experience (i.e. a student with a full-time or part-time job while in high school); and volunteerism.
Eliminating these standardized tests is only the start to admitting more diverse students.
The pandemic has forced higher education to perfect the delivery of online courses, which now can be used to also offer college preparatory courses. This would help to prepare rural and urban disadvantaged students for admission to our best schools. That would make a big difference, perhaps enough to make people forget how to spell SAT and ACT.
The conventional wisdom used to be that the private sector would demand little more from college graduates than a successful liberal arts education. But these days, the workplace demands a college degree to just get in the door.
The indexes cited above are weighted in favor of white, middle-class students from large suburban and urban high schools. Many minority students come from disadvantaged schools, meaning they face an uphill battle for college admission. They may lack advanced placement courses and other entities that could ease their way into college.
We need to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to diversifying our student population. That’s why Colorado universities should sponsor public online academies in the inner city and rural areas. Private- and public-sector grants could help fund classes. The academies’ purpose would be college preparation.
It would be similar to the Teach for America nonprofit educational organization, which focuses on students’ academic lives long before they start applying for college. Let’s bring that model to Colorado campuses in dire need of stronger diversity. Let’s give hope to students that dream of a college education and need a road map to get a degree.
We must do something to restore higher education as a guarantor of opportunity, rather than simply settling for it to be a gatekeeper for empty promises.
State universities must do more to build a more diverse student body, eliminating standardized tests and offering university-sponsored online college preparatory classes.
It’s past time for institutions of higher education in Colorado to make an investment in their own accessibility and diversity in a more direct manner, and in their stated promise of opportunity, beyond rhetoric, hiring additional personnel and good intentions.
Higher education can begin to rebuild our dwindling middle class only if it begins to serve as a catalyst and not as a gatekeeper for future employment opportunities.
Jim Martin is a past statewide member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents.
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