Testing our admissions policy: Examining the role of standardized tests in building our community

September 30, 2015 by The Williams Record Editorial Board

In light of the recent decision of Hampshire College to move its admissions policy to test-blind, we at the Record would not recommend that the College follow suit. While some results of the decision provide strength to Hampshire’s test-blind campaign, the Record believes that changing the College’s admission policy to test-blind is unrealistic at this time, and could negatively affect the fostering of its academic community.

There are certainly issues with the Standardized Admissions Test (SAT) and the American College Testing (ACT) examination as they are currently structured. Studies have shown that both are biased in favor of more privileged prospective students and have been found to be somewhat unreliable indicators of academic competence. We do, however, feel that it is helpful to utilize a standardized tool of measuring academic capability and intelligence to determine prospective students’ abilities outside of their grade point averages (GPAs) and application essays – and attached to any form of widespread standardized testing are the inherent difficulties of fairly testing a vast number of prospective students of all different backgrounds. The SATs and ACTs stand as the most competent and functional options we have at the time being, and, thus, it would be extremely difficult to eliminate the current system even though it is flawed.

Eliminating the inclusion of SAT and ACT test scores in the process of admissions would have additional external consequences, including the exclusion of the College from the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings. While it is regrettable that rankings are so closely linked to the imperfect system of SAT and ACT testing, the rankings are nonetheless important. They are essential to the visibility of the College, increasing accessibility to both international students and to students who would otherwise be unfamiliar with its national academic standing, often those from less privileged backgrounds with limited access to college counseling. This visibility is especially pertinent for smaller colleges with less obvious public presences, such as Williams.

Although we do believe that the College should keep its existing admissions policy in place, we at the Record also believe that there should be serious consideration to revising the college admissions process on a national stage. As it stands, the SAT and ACT are necessary to remain in the U.S. News & World Reports ranking system, and they are currently the only standardized methods of comparing students. Nonetheless, the College can do more to work outside the current system of testing. Peer institutions have taken steps to eliminate the immense foothold that standardized tests have in the admissions process, by either converting to “test-optional” or determining a threshold above which differences in test scores no longer predict differences in college achievement. We believe the College should consider taking such steps to decrease the influence of an admittedly flawed but necessary system. Additionally, we believe the College should release the research behind their reasoning for continuing to consider standardized testing and, more generally, that they should publicize the process of admissions decisions more clearly, including which predictors they consider to what extent and why.

With its top ranking, the College has the educational influence to start a dialogue regarding the reform of standardized tests and the college application process. If the College were to take a strong stance on the issue, it would surely be heard wholeheartedly by the academic community. As such, we at the Record believe that although the College should retain its current admissions structure for the time being – until further consideration is given to viable alternatives – headway should be made on attempting to work outside the system of subscribing heavily to standardized testing and rankings lists.

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James October 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm

I don’t mind tests at all and I don’t believe that the cited tests are biased. You just have to make sure that your kid studies adequately and reads a lot – it’s up to us as parents to do whatever is necessary to make that the case.
My only concern is always making sure that my kid is adequately prepared throughout so on the advice of a couple of his teachers I went to the munchmath website and got them to send me a couple of tutors. As parents it’s basically up to us to do whatever is necessary to make sure that our kids retain a strong learning position. The most we can do is our best.

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