This year more than 1,450 US colleges and universities adopted test-optional policies paving the way for a new era of student-centered holistic approaches to college admissions. The shift toward test-optional has been growing steadily for the last 10 years with admissions professionals highlighting the importance of seeing students not as numbers but as future members of their school communities.
Even though colleges and universities have proven the ability to evaluate applicants with or without standardized test scores, the high school admissions process, especially in Chicago, continues to focus on testing. Chicago Public Schools’ recent announcement of their intention to streamline the high school application process by requiring one exam instead of two, does little to address the inequities inherent in standardized testing.
Standardized testing, specifically entrance and exit exams, disproportionately penalize low-income, people of color, English language learners, and the disabled. These exams are riddled with biased cultural assumptions and do not reflect how we learn (by making connections and meaning based on what we already know). Moreover, standardized exams don’t deliver. The National Research Council (2011) found that emphasis on test scores does little to measure learning progress. Further, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (2018) found that students who did not submit test scores graduated at equivalent or higher rates than their test score submitting peers.
To put it simply, test-optional policies are necessary as we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic. We need high school applications that are responsive to the challenging and ever-changing world in which we live. To think that any exams proctored after a year of remote-learning in the midst of a global social justice movement, will tell you anything about that student’s resiliency, determination, or capacity, is naïve at best. We know that standardized exams are not the only way of evaluating applicants and predicting student success. So instead of a reductive accounting of scores and grades, we must employ admission processes that encourage students to explore their interests and make meaningful connections. That way we see them as the dynamic individuals they are, not just a number on a page.