In spring 2019, USF became “test optional,” allowing prospective students to decide whether or not they will include their standardized testing scores, such as the College Board’s SAT or the American College Testing’s ACT, in their application. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. We believe that USF should follow the example of dozens of universities across the country, including the University of California (UC) system, and stop considering standardized test scores for admission altogether. A test-blind system recognizes the equity issues associated with using standardized tests to determine academic success, as well as the safety issues involved in testing during a pandemic.
While college admissions will always be a competitive process, the competition for an acceptance letter should be one of students’ genuine work ethic and drive for learning, not a contest of privilege and resources. When a California judge ruled that the UC system must be test blind rather than test optional, saying that students who submit scores still have an inherent advantage over students who don’t, he was making a statement about the state’s values, and USF should make that statement, too.
Although testing can be an indicator of collegiate success, it is not indicative of the intelligence or full capabilities of the student, but rather oftentimes reflects a student’s privilege and accessibility to resources. Standardized tests are designed not to measure one’s merits, but rather predict the success of a student in their first year of college. According to researchers from the University of Minnesota, scores on the SAT correlate with college GPA around 67% of the time. Even those with access to resources, however, may struggle when taking tests and still be successful in a university setting. Going to school at university includes many more factors than preparing for a one-shot, hours-long exam.
USF’s decision to become test optional was a commendable step in the right direction, but our mission of cura personalis, or care for the whole person, would be best served by a more holistic, and less quantitative, admissions process. In their press release last spring announcing the change, the University noted the correlation between SAT scores and income. Lack of access to overall resources in high school can mean very little access to test-prep tools, and the University acknowledged this in its initial move.
Some argue that there are drawbacks to eliminating the use of testing. Looking at “high school performance” without test scores, as FairTest, an educational organization critical of standardized testing, recommends, can perpetuate issues of grade inflation. Grade inflation is the result of teachers having different grading philosophies and rubrics — one teacher might tend to be more generous in their grading, while another may be more critical and strict. Even within individual high schools, some teachers do not grade with the same discretion. This can artificially increase or decrease a student’s performance and cause discrepancies between schools over what quality of work merits an “A.” With the SAT and ACT, students take the same test, and scoring is standardized, thus colleges have a standard evaluation metric free of grade inflation.
There is the risk that, because a test blind policy means that universities will primarily evaluate students by their GPAs, students who benefit from grade inflation could be at an advantage over those who attend schools with stricter grading policies. This can encourage the opposite of the intended effect and would only act as another form of unfairness. There are equity issues involved in high school grading that need to be addressed, too.
Despite this, USF, among other universities, needs to focus on taking the next step and removing standardized test requirements. While a wide variety of requirements allows students to demonstrate where they shine (grades, tests, extracurriculars, or essay writing), testing is proven to be an unbalanced and inaccurate indicator of success in college.
In the real world, we aren’t going to be defined by a score. Rather, we are going to be evaluated by how much we can bring to the table in terms of lived experiences, and a test score will not indicate that. We are much more than numbers, and lessening the impact standardized tests have on us would help us realize this.