To test or not to test? Mac is currently deliberating a proposed admissions policy to make standardized test scores an optional component of a student application. Back in March 2017, Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) passed a unanimous resolution that called on Mac to adopt a test-optional admissions policy. Since then, neither President Brian Rosenberg nor the Admissions Office has made a decision.
I have some personal qualms with standardized testing. As a high school junior, I remember spending hours reviewing with tutors and poring over SAT prep books only to see my score improve by a mere 30 points. I was never once able to finish either of the two math sections of the SAT, which frustrated me to no end.
The flaws of the standardized testing system far exceed my personal negative experiences with it, however. Beyond the frustrations with taking the test itself, standardized testing systematically favors certain students over others. The SAT is written so that it produces an average score of approximately 1000 out of 1600. This means that questions that too many students do well on are discounted to maintain the standardized average. This system is written explicitly so that some students must succeed and, of course, some students must fail.
Who are the students that fail in this system? By a substantial margin, they are low-income students: the students that cannot afford to pay for expensive SAT prep or do not have time for it, and whose schools do not offer AP classes or college guidance programs. These students are fundamentally disadvantaged by the SAT. This reality is written into the SAT’s history. The test’s supposed predictive ability was based originally on its correlation with academic success during freshman year only, and was based on data from New England college-preparatory, male-only schools. The test was not originally designed with the diverse demographics of modern America in mind. Though standardized tests indicate some correlation with success in college, I truly believe it is not enough to justify our culture’s fixation on these scores, and the ways in which they leave marginalized students behind.
Macalester aims to empower marginalized students and attract a diverse student body. So why do we continue to endorse this flawed system and require students to submit test scores that may not actually indicate that student’s ability to succeed? If Mac is truly committed to student success and educational accessibility, we must shift to a test-optional policy.
The importance of going test-optional cannot be stressed enough. If a student feels as though their standardized test score benefits their application, certainly they should have the option to submit it. But ultimately, these tests’ lack of substantive predictive ability and their disservice to marginalized students mean that they cannot justifiably be mandatory parts of a Macalester application.
Proponents of Mac’s current testing policy argue that, given a test-optional policy, Mac would be forced to weigh other metrics such as extracurriculars and AP scores more heavily, which may also favor wealthy students. I don’t believe this is valid because Mac’s admission policy is already holistic, meaning that the admissions office considers each student within their school’s context. Macalester will not hold a student’s lack of academic or extracurricular opportunities against them. Empowering students with the choice to submit test scores means that students can more fairly represent themselves, rather than have their intelligence reduced to a number that may not be indicative of their academic ability.
The SAT and the ACT essentially measure one’s ability to take a test in a contrived environment. They benefit some students, and disadvantage others. Their mandatory nature within the Macalester application is misplaced and inappropriate, and must change.