Earlier this year, five minutes changed the viewpoints around standardized testing. A typo in the June SAT workbook misled proctors and test-takers to think that the normally 20-minute math and reading sections were allotted 25 minutes. Though some proctors caught this mistake and administered the sections in 20 minute increments, other students were allowed 25, calling into question the validity of the scores and the credibility of score calculation. As a result, the Test-Optional Movement gained spotlight in national news.
The validity of standardized test scores has been questioned for a long time, but now more and more universities are starting to take action. The Test-Optional Movement allows students to opt-out of taking the SAT or ACT and does not require either of these scores for undergraduate admission. The latest participating school is Cornell College, which recently started a three-year pilot program to see if removing that requirement will broaden their reach or attract more students.
Cornell President Jonathan Brand thinks the new option will encourage greater flexibility and creativity for the students. “We want strong students from a broad range of backgrounds— regardless of their standardized scores—to know that we’re interested in them and that they may be a good fit here,” Brand said.
Cornell is offering two options for applicants. They can either submit an essay along with their standardized test scores or a portfolio of their work with two short-answer essays. Students can choose to represent themselves according to their personal talents and interests. The portfolio can take on a wide
range of mediums including video, photography, writing, art or music.
Ann Cannon, a statistical analyst and professor at Cornell, reviewed research in regards to this change. “The bottom line is that while both SAT and ACT are of some use as predictors of success, there is a lot of variability among students, and these test scores are only a small piece of the puzzle,” Cannon said. She concluded that determining a student’s work ethic could be just as good or better in predicting success.
As of now, over 250 colleges in the U.S. have converted to test- optional admission; however, standardized testing has become a social tradition involves more than student performance. Jacqie Johnson, a junior resident assistant and psychology major at The University of Southern Mississippi, said there are two sides to the story.
“I can see the importance of these scores determining whether or not students have mastered college level material, but there are also financial consequences that can hinder students. I had an above-average ACT score, but I still didn’t get the financial aid I needed and that has set me back.” – Johnson
The state of Mississippi offers grants that discriminate between students based on where they fall on the scale of ACT scores. The Eminent Scholars Grant distinguishes the difference between a 28 and 29 on the ACT. Student’s scoring 28 and below can be offered $3,000 in state aid, but that one point pushing a score to a 29 grants $10,000 in state aid. Is one point really worth $7,000?
Johnson made another point, disregarding university admission and financial aid altogether. “I would think that the higher score you have, the more likely you are to have a high self-esteem and believe you are higher achieving,” Johnson said. Standardized testing has become a rite of passage for high school juniors and seniors, as if a high score really determines that student’s academic worth.
Michelle Obama is thankful that she was not judged on her score.
“If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn’t be here. I guarantee you that,” she said.
There is a balance that can be achieved when considering an applicant for admission to a college. There is validity in standardized test scores, but a blanket cannot be thrown over motivation, work ethic and creativity. Now that universities are taking away that requirement, research will soon show how