On The Chopping Block

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 3/20/23

Should standardized tests like the SAT and ACT be nixed from college admissions processes? According to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activists and anti-test enthusiasts, they should be, because clearly, the SAT and ACT are racist assessment tools that exacerbate systemic inequities.

Wenyuan Wu, a Minding the Campus columnist, recently published an article “On Standardized Testing, the Elites Have It Wrong,” where she explores the basis of the anti-testing movement and why it’s ultimately a symptom of the broader war on merit. The movement began at the University of Chicago back in 2018 and since then, 1,843 accredited four-year colleges have made these tests optional, and another 84 have gone “test-blind.” Wu begins her argument by referencing a February 2023 brief by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that directly challenges “five pieces of conventional wisdom behind the systemic assault on tests,” which are as follows:

Conventional Wisdom #1: “College admission exams are racist.”
Conventional Wisdom #2: “College admissions exams limit students’ pathways into quality higher education.”
Conventional Wisdom #3: “Other parts of the college application promote equity better than entrance exams.”
Conventional Wisdom #4: “Admissions officers should just focus on grades.”
Conventional Wisdom #5: “The future of college admissions is ‘test optional.’”

A quick look at these conventional nuggets of “wisdom” may leave you scratching your head, as they seem somewhat one-sided in favor of racial equity. But because of the above assumptions, major colleges and universities are happily hopping on the racial equity bandwagon by cutting out standardized tests. And in addition to undergraduate testing, there is an anti-testing movement on the graduate level as well. The LSAT, MCAT, and GRE are on the chopping block too because, you guessed it, they’re “racist” evaluation tools.

Casting standardized tests aside doesn’t solve the problems pro-racial equity enthusiasts are aiming to fix. The claim that college admission exams are inherently racist overlooks the facts: ditching the test doesn’t end persistent learning gaps evident in the distribution of SAT scores by race and sex.

It’s also interesting that the anti-testing movement makes the claim that the standardized testing piece of the admissions process is racist and unfair, when it only makes up part of the decision-making process. Wu points out that socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds have a correlation with the other parts of the admissions process too—like personal essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, etc. Will those be targeted next by the “racial equity” crowd?

As a recent college graduate myself, I still remember being a senior in high school taking the SAT and ACT nearly 10 times combined, submitting long admissions applications, and going through multiple interviews before I received any answers back, either positive or negative. I was assessed on rubrics not only by my test scores, but equally by my contributions to society, extracurriculars, grades, and overall merit—as the admissions process is supposed to work. 

With all that being said, the admissions process should assess, and should remain, a comprehensive picture of the applicant, their background, and their merit. Proposing the “demise of merit” isn’t the solution to the decades-long policy failures “to provide adequate education to all American school-aged children, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds.” The anti-test argument seems to have forgotten that merit is not based on genetics, it is evidence of a student’s hardwork and pursuit of excellence. 

The focus should be shifted to help students achieve greater things, enhance educational aspirations, and pursue excellence, rather than feeding the narrative that certain groups will inevitably do worse because of their skin color. Nixing standardized testing evaluations will not equal the playing field, nor will it solve underlying socioeconomic issues—it will instead open the door wider for equity ideologues to rearrange society in the pursuit of “equal outcomes” over equal opportunity. 

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by the NAS Staff. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Photo by clsdesign on Adobe Stock

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