Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Standardized Test Scores as Acceptance Criteria for Dental Hygiene Programs

Academic journal article Journal of Allied Health

Standardized Test Scores as Acceptance Criteria for Dental Hygiene Programs

Article excerpt

The principal goal of acceptance criteria is to select candidates who will graduate and transition into professional practice. However, in an attempt to increase the diversity of their student populations, educators are anxious to make changes to the traditional acceptance criteria, such as standardized test scores. Yet data indicate that standardized testing biases against certain populations of students (i.e., female, culturally diverse, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds). Fairer assessment measures should continue to be sought. J Allied Health 2008; 37: 169-172.

Democracy is a goal that is both worthwhile and difficult to acheve. -S.D. Welch1

DENTAL HYGIENE EDUCATORS are seeking more meaningful measures to select students who will be successful in school.2-6 One option, the use of standardized test scores, has been discussed at recent educator's consortiums and other professional meetings.2 Adding standardized test scores to assess students' qualifications for admissions may be noble; however, the effort is misguided. The goal of this commentary is to reveal the negative consequences of adding standardized test scores to acceptance criteria for entrance into dental hygiene and other allied health programs. The literature reviewed is on dental hygiene education; however, it may be transferred to other health professions.

The principal goal of acceptance criteria is to select candidates who will graduate and transition into professional practice, addressing the health care needs in this country. Traditional acceptance criteria to dental hygiene and other health professions, based solely on grade point average (GPA) and science GPA, have been the most predictive of student success on required licensure examinations.3 However, basing acceptance solely on the candidate's GPA has systematically disadvantaged ethnic minorities, and educators are anxious to make changes to the traditional acceptance criteria2-6 in an attempt to accept students who traditionally would not be accepted. However, changing criteria to include the use of standardized testing is being explored even though there is limited research on the predictive value of standardized tests relative to the success of dental hygiene students' clinical competency or problem-solving ability.2-6 There is an inadequate foundational theory and a dearth of literature regarding alternative acceptance criteria for dental hygiene programs and the impact on the cultural diversity of student populations.6

Health professions such as dental hygiene have been attempting to increase the diversity of their student populations through various programs since 1970 in an attempt to increase access to care. Yet, the number of diverse and underrepresented health professionals still lags behind their representation in the overall population, with the largest majority of the graduates being white.7 Efforts to increase diversity have primarily emphasized the recruitment and retention of diverse students,8-14 with little attention to the acceptance criteria. Culturally diverse students face numerous barriers in their pursuit of an education in the health professions, most of which are unrelated to their potential as skilled professionals.13-18 Standardized test scores, as part of acceptance criteria, may create an additional barrier for those who are most likely to improve access to care.19

Testing Background

Standardized tests are used for a myriad of educational decisions, including student placement, advancement, graduation, college entrance, professional school acceptance, and scholarships. Some decisions have profound consequences for students and potentially for society. Broad-based or minimum competency testing gained prominence in 1957, embedded in the United States competition with the then-Soviet Union to advance technology.18 During the early 1980s, the United States was reported to be losing its global standing in terms of school performance in comparison with other countries. …

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