Did Harvard just signal the end of the era of testing it started
In the 1920s, Harvard’s adoption of the SAT for admission energized a nascent movement of standardized admissions testing in elite enclaves. In the 1960s, when the University of California (UC) system did the same, it made the admissions testing trend national and expanded beyond the private tony colleges. Once again, Harvard and UC are the harbingers of impending changes not just in higher education, but in the education system as a whole. Over the past few months, Harvard University has announced that it will be optional test for the next 4 years and public universities in California have decided to no longer consider the SAT and ACT.
The most public breakdown was in undergraduate and SAT/ACT admissions, but preschool, high school, and college admissions offices also rejected standardized tests. Berkeley announced most of its graduate programs will not require the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations), the Georgia State University School of Business has announced that it permanently end the GMAT requirement, Maggie Walker Governor’s High School announced that it delete an admission test, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City would end practice of testing 4-year-olds for entry into gifted and talented programs. These announcements highlight the near-universal abandonment of standardized testing that began before the pandemic but has accelerated over the past eighteen months.
From a purely scientific point of view, these changes are long overdue. The primary or exclusive use of standardized tests should always have been a failure. The major education (AERA), psychology (APA) and measurement (NCME) associations have published common standards for educational testing who actively discourage the use of standardized tests as the sole factor in making high-stakes decisions. This orientation was in place in the 1980s when many newly created selective public high schools, strongly influenced by the A nation in danger report that trumpeted the specter of failing public schools and lowered standards, established admissions processes that relied heavily on testing.
These exam schools were largely modeled after the older schools in Boston and New York. The New York City Special Schools, whose process violates common guidelines but is encoded in state law, many say, were created to perpetuate segregation, are the only ones to withhold test-only admissions at all levels, from kindergarten to graduate school. In 2011, there were 165 high-performing selective admissions public examination schools nationwide and among these 60% placed a strong or moderate emphasis on test scores during admissions. Today, that number stands at about 20. San Francisco’s Lowell High Schoolme, boston Boston Latin High School, Philadelphia Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, and Fairfax Thomas Jefferson High School all changed their processes to remove tests, reduce score dependency, or increase the number of tests considered.
The trend of optional testing and the realignment to scientific principles of test use has not been limited to public schools. A review of current requirements for more than 50 exclusive and highly rated independent schools found that only a minority (42%) will require admissions tests for next year’s applicants.
Jill Lee, admissions director at Castilleja School in the San Francisco Bay Area, which not only made testing optional but stopped accepting scores altogether, noted that the school administration has started conversations on eliminating admissions testing as a requirement before the pandemic and that it had never been the multiple-choice components of the exam that revealed student readiness, but the written essay that provided more information on the ease and comfort of students in expressing themselves in writing. Castilleja and other area schools jointly adopted a proctored test administered to applicants over Zoom during the pandemic that they found more informative than ISEE or SSAT.
Taryn Grogan, director of enrollment and strategic engagement at Nueva School, also in the Bay Area, said admissions testing has always been a minimal part of their process, with test scores going up. admission being often placed on the back of a file and readers only considered the scores after all. other more important factors were assessed. She further noted that schools are monitoring the optional conversation of the test in higher education and will likely reflect their policies.
The break with testing has also taken root in state law. The Colorado state legislature recently passed laws allowing all state colleges to practice optional test admissions, while the Illinois legislature required its colleges to do so. Both Maryland and New York have bills in their state legislatures that seek to make optional policy testing state law. Even in Florida, a state known for its dedication to testing, the Republican governor has proposed changes to the state’s testing process and policies that would significantly alter the role of testing.
The resulting policy changes at admissions offices and state houses forced test publishers to alter their marketing approach. Gone are the days of pretending that testing finds the most academically prepared students and that testing is inherently fair and necessary. Test editors have moved on to discourage overreliance on testing (but still using), recognizing that the testing can do more harm than good, and suggesting ways the optional test would work best as long as a test is included.
The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which over the past 3 decades has lost contracts to administer the GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT, has been particularly aggressive in marketing its last major admissions test, the GRE . While offering the GRE in competition with other graduate exams has opened up new markets for the ETS test, it has also accelerated the #GRExit social media campaign. Hundreds graduate programs from princeton university, at brown university, at Colorado State University announced that they will no longer require the GRE for admission to graduate and doctoral programs. In addition, more than half of the most prestigious MBA programs have moved from requiring the GMAT to accepting the GMAT or GRE at being optional test. Law schools have been slower, but the past year has seen the culmination of a years-long fight to allow law schools to take a more flexible approach to admissions testing. More than 30 Nationally recognized law schools have instituted flexible admissions policies for testing (accepting LSAT or GRE) or elective admissions testing.
Whether it’s for self-interest, research, seeking greater diversity, or breaking down barriers for low-income students, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and Graduate schools recognize that the belief that testing could level the playing field has not been realized.
For the first time in nearly a hundred years, there is a real possibility that a child born today could attend reputable schools from kindergarten to doctorate without having to spend thousands of dollars on preparatory courses, hundreds of hours extracurricular studies or dozens of tests on Saturday morning.