The Bandwagon: Some Schools Lessen Weight of Standardized Test Scores

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The Bandwagon: Some Schools Lessen Weight of Standardized Test Scores.

by Malik Shabazz

For many years, critics of standardized tests such as the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) have sought to lessen their role as the dominant factors for admission to this nation's institutions of higher education. Substantiated claims of cultural and socio-economic bias in test scoring have resulted in several rewrites of test questions over the years.

But the rewrites have never satisfied critics such as the Massachusetts-based watchdog Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), who argue that the tests are inherently biased. Still, most schools continue to use the tests as a key factor in determining the "aptitude" of prospective students for academic success. However, when Bates College, a small liberal arts college in Maine, decided to make the SATs optional in 1984, the iron-clad notion of standardized test scores as the determining admissions factor began to crumble. In 1990, Bates' faculty voted to make all standardized testing optional.

Bates' Experience

For Bates, a highly selective academic institution, deciding to drop the SAT as mandatory was a gamble that has paid off from the beginning. According to Carmita McCoy, associate dean of admissions and director of multi-cultural admissions at Bates, "There are other means to determine a student's potential for success that are outside of standardized testing."

Former Admissions Dean William Hiss, now vice president for administrative services, agreed. "I'd say it's one of the best things Bates ever did. We have looked back at average GPAs and academic survival rates. Every time we've looked, the academic survival rate of non-submitters [about a quarter of each year's entering class] has been over 99 percent. And the average GPAs of the submitters and non-submitters are less than one-tenth of a GPA point apart. . . . And yet the test scores, when you go back and do research on submitters versus non-submitters, they're apt to be 160 points apart, 80 on the verbal and 80 on the math. What's happening is that the non-submitters are doing much better than you would expect them to do given their testing. The submitters are doing just about what you would expect they would do, given their testing.

"So the message to us seems to be about a quarter of our class are saying, 'I'm a much better student than these tests would suggest,' and they're right, they're correct. And when we look at the groups that are disproportionately represented in the non-submitter category, it turns out to be each group that folk wisdom would tell you would be in a non-submitter category. It's multi-cultural students, it's women, it's rural and blue-collar kids, it's people who speak a second language at home, and people who have a learning disability. It's all of those categories, and different mixtures."

The 'Whole Person'

McCoy argues that by looking "more closely at curriculum," personal essays and interviews, admissions committees can "get a better feel for the whole person." This formula has worked well for Bates, which during last year's graduating class saw all but one of the African Americans who entered Bates four years earlier graduate. "There are so many factors with standardized tests [to be calculated when gauging scores]," said McCoy, and while "there are some test scores that do reflect accurate potential of students, oftentimes they may not test the students in what may be the crucial factors of their success in college," she added.

Since Bates made its bold move, nearly 200 other institutions (see page 26) have joined the growing group which makes standardized test scores an optional part of the admissions process.

As more schools jump off the bandwagon of mandatory standardized test scores, many who have long advocated a lessening of reliance on test scores are stepping up their arguments against standardized tests. …