In the 1920s, Harvard’s adoption of the SAT for admission energized a nascent movement of standardized admissions testing in elite enclaves. In the 1960s, when the University of California (UC) system did the same, it made the admissions testing trend national and expanded beyond the private tony colleges. Once again, Harvard and UC are the harbingers of impending changes not just in higher education, but in the education system as a whole. Over the past few months, Harvard University announced it would be elective for the next 4 years and public universities in California have decided to no longer consider the SAT and ACT.
The most public break was in undergraduate and SAT/ACT admissions, but preschool, high school, and college admissions offices also rejected standardized tests. Berkeley announced that most of its graduate programs would not require the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations), Georgia State University School of Business announced that it would permanently end the GMAT requirement, the Maggie Walker Governor’s High School announced it would scrap an admissions test and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City would end the practice of testing 4-year-olds for entry into gifted and talented programs . These announcements highlight the near-universal abandonment of standardized testing that began before the pandemic but has accelerated over the past eighteen months.
From a purely scientific point of view, these changes are long overdue. The primary or exclusive use of standardized tests should always have been a failure. The major education (AERA), psychology (APA), and measurement (NCME) associations have published common standards for educational testing that actively discourage the use of standardized tests as the sole factor in making high-stakes decisions. . This orientation was in place in the 1980s when many newly created selective public high schools, strongly influenced by the A nation in danger report that trumpeted the specter of failing public schools and lowered standards, established admissions processes that relied heavily on testing.
These exam schools were largely modeled after the older schools in Boston and New York. New York City’s special schools, whose process violates common guidelines but is encoded in state law that many claim was created to perpetuate segregation, are the only remaining barriers to test admissions. only at all levels, from kindergarten to higher education. In 2011, there were 165 high-performing selective admissions public examination schools nationwide and of these, 60% placed a strong or moderate emphasis on admissions test scores. Today, that number stands at about 20. Lowell High School in San Francisco, Boston Latin High School in Boston, Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School in Philadelphia, and Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax all have changed their processes to remove tests, reduce reliance on scores, or increase the number of tests considered.
The trend of optional testing and realignment with scientific principles of test use has not been limited to public schools. A review of current requirements for more than 50 exclusive and highly rated independent schools found that only a minority (42%) will require admissions tests for next year’s applicants.
Jill Lee, admissions director at Castilleja School in the San Francisco Bay Area, which not only made testing optional but stopped accepting scores altogether, noted that the school administration has started conversations on eliminating admissions testing as a requirement before the pandemic and that it had never been the multiple-choice components of the exam that revealed student readiness, but the written essay that provided more information on the ease and comfort of students in expressing themselves in writing. Castilleja and other area schools jointly adopted a proctored test administered to applicants over Zoom during the pandemic that they found more informative than ISEE or SSAT.
Taryn Grogan, director of enrollment and strategic engagement at Nueva School, also in the Bay Area, said admissions testing has always been a minimal part of their process, with test scores going up. admission being often placed on the back of a file and readers only considered the scores after all. other more important factors had been assessed. She further noted that schools are looking at the optional conversation of the test in higher education and will likely reflect their policies.
Breaking testing has also become entrenched in state law. The Colorado state legislature recently passed laws allowing all state colleges to practice optional test admissions, while the Illinois legislature required its colleges to do so. Maryland and New York both have bills in their state legislatures that seek to make optional testing policies state law. Even in Florida, a state known for its dedication to testing, the Republican governor has proposed changes to the state’s testing process and policies that would significantly alter the role of testing.
The resulting policy changes at admissions offices and state houses forced test publishers to alter their marketing approach. Gone are the days of pretending that testing finds the most academically prepared students and that testing is inherently fair and necessary. Test editors continued to discourage overreliance on (but still using) testing, acknowledging that testing can do more harm than good, and suggesting ways in which optional testing would work best as long as a test is included.
The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which over the past 3 decades has lost contracts to administer the GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT, has been particularly aggressive in marketing its last major admissions test, the GRE . While offering the GRE in competition with other graduate exams opened up new markets for the ETS test, it also accelerated the #GRExit social media campaign. Hundreds of graduate programs from Princeton University to Brown University to Colorado State University have announced that they will no longer require the GRE for admission to degree programs graduate and doctoral studies. Additionally, more than half of the most prestigious MBA programs have moved from requiring the GMAT to accepting the GMAT or GRE with an optional test. Law schools have been slower, but the past year has seen the culmination of a years-long struggle to allow law schools to take a more flexible approach to admissions testing. More than 30 leading law schools nationally have instituted flexible admissions policies for testing (accepting LSAT or GRE) or elective admission testing.
Whether it’s for self-interest, research, seeking greater diversity, or breaking down barriers for low-income students, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and Graduate schools recognize that the belief that testing could level the playing field has not been realized.
For the first time in nearly a hundred years, there is a real possibility that a child born today could attend reputable schools from kindergarten to doctorate without having to spend thousands of dollars on preparatory courses, hundreds of hours extracurricular studies or dozens of tests on Saturday morning.