AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman
This month, Columbia University in New York City became the latest institution to announce that it was scrapping a requirement for applicants to submit scores on either the SAT or ACT standardized tests.
Other top U.S. universities introduced test-optional admissions policies during COVID-19, which they subsequently extended: University of Pennsylvania and Stanford through 2024, Cornell through 2025, and Harvard through 2026. Columbia went further, stating this was not a temporary change. “Standardized testing is not a required component of our application,” the school wrote in a press release.
Instead, they claimed, “our review is purposeful and nuanced—respecting varied backgrounds, voices and experiences—in order to best determine an applicant’s suitability for admission and ability to thrive in our curriculum and our community, and to advance access to our educational opportunities.
The reality is the opposite. To paraphrase Churchill, standardized tests are the worst metric except for all the others. Most importantly, they are the only thing an applicant can control. Their “backgrounds and experiences,” judged against their contribution to the school “community,” are entirely subjective.
It is hard not to read doing away with standardized testing as a preemptive strike against the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the constitutionality of affirmative action, where it is widely expected to rule against the use of race in college admissions.
Statistical analysis of admissions decisions, comparing the outcomes to the test scores of candidates are at the heart of the lawsuit against Harvard, and the fewer numerical measures such as standardized tests that are used in admissions decisions, the harder it will be to prove in the future that discrimination is occurring at universities.
The motivation is not really a secret. Advocates of test-optional policies have been openly saying for years that their objections are not process-based concerns about the nature of testing itself, but rather with the unequal outcomes which somehow “prove” that the tests must be discriminatory.
When it came to the LSAT, a 2020 New York University Law Review article opined: “Once a simple tool to aid in the assessment of diverse applicants, [the LSAT] has in recent decades become a significant barrier to entry with disparate negative impacts on women, racial minorities, individuals of low socioeconomic status, and, perhaps most egregiously, those with disabilities.” The evidence? That African American applicants scored an average of 11 points lower.
There is an irony behind these attacks: SAT requirements were initially brought in not for discriminatory reasons, but to fight religious, racial, and especially antisemitic discrimination in admissions.
James B. Conant, the president of Harvard University in the 1930s, sought to abandon the legacy of his predecessor Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who had championed quotas for Jewish applicants by recruiting those from non-traditional backgrounds. He denounced the “privileged sloth” at Harvard, where almost any “paying guest” was welcomed. His view, echoed in modern times by Andrew Sullivan, the former Editor of the New Republic, was that “standardized testing has always been a progressive idea. It disrupts class and race, unseats entrenched privilege, and offers the poor and the marginalized their best chance of social mobility.”
Conant also feared that any admissions process that favored connections and conformity above all else would produce individuals who were in thrall to the system from which they derived. Students who questioned their teachers did not receive top grades or recommendations, nor did those who held unpopular views among their peers win debate competitions.
Harvard’s existing system was selecting for those who were indebted to the existing systems, and those who wished to go in debt themselves to it so their sons and daughters could join the first group.
It is worth considering the lack of concern with ideological or social diversity among those advocating abandoning standardized tests at institutions which require DEI statements from prospective hires and wish to require similar essays from all applicants. Conant’s belief was that the one thing which existed independent of others for each individual was their innate intelligence, and that could be demonstrated on a standardized test. In effect, those advocating for abolishing standardized tests are advocating taking that away.
Without standardized tests, the fate of all applicants will be in the hands of someone else, and largely subjective. Grades and recommendations will be in the hands of high school teachers and administrators. Extracurricular activities and access to legacy status or internships will be in the hands of parents. Even with the best of all of the above components, how much each matters will be determined by admissions departments.
Those admissions departments will make judgements based on the preferences of donors. Precisely why U.S. universities are quite so dead set on racial quotas has often confused conservatives, who have largely ascribed it to the overall liberal bias within academia.
Academics, however, do not control the admissions process; administrators do, and as liberals are apt to remind everyone when the topic is the power of an institution such as Disney or Harvard, they are private entities.
In this case, they are private entities in thrall to their donors, who are in many cases the exact same hedge funds that have promoted ESG investments throughout the private sector. The question of whether they actually care about using diversity to promote social justice or equality is secondary to the reality that they find it valuable and lucrative to be seen as caring about both.
These same dynamics will inherently end up politicizing the curriculum even further in the absence of standardized testing. Among the charges against the SAT and ACT is that their use encourages high schools to “teach to the test” instead of presumably teaching something of greater value.
But eliminating the SAT and ACT will not eliminate admissions criteria. It will merely obscure them and make them consist even more entirely of meeting various “diversity” checkboxes.
Any high-quality secondary school that prides itself on delivering acceptance letters for its students will react by “teaching” to this new “test.” Schools will even more aggressively embrace woke curriculum in the classroom and extracurricular activities focused on causes such as BLM and trans activism.
This will not be evidence of some sort of plot to undermine parental authority for ideological ends. Instead, it will be an effort to appease the demands of college admissions departments at the behest of parents. Conservatives will not be able separate out the progressive ideological content of public school instruction from the admissions criteria of colleges, or the admissions criteria of colleges from the demands of the colleges’ donors. .
What parents can do is recognize that what we are witnessing is not the market in action, but rather a market failure, a collective action problem requiring outside intervention. In this case, just as states and even Congress are taking action to pass legislation requiring companies to prioritize the interests of their shareholders, not the image of their board members, by limiting the use of ESG criteria, they should take steps to champion standardized tests. Not because the College Board is their friend or because the SAT and ACT are perfect. But because the alternative is far worse. Not just for colleges, but because of the knock-on effects it will produce at all levels of the education system.
Thankfully, conservatives may well have a tool in hand. The Biden administration’s ham-fisted attempts to forgive student debt by executive fiat have reminded everyone that the current inflated prices for the U.S. university system are unsustainable without access to federal student loans.
Congress could easily condition future loans on the submission of standardized test scores, or it could make only students at schools that require them eligible. Would this fix all the problems with higher education? Not even close. But it would do more for genuine diversity than all of the diversity initiatives of every admissions department in the country.
Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.
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If the student mafia has learned how to defeat the tests through networked cheating or just posting all the answers online in the open, what good is the test. Lots of fraud today in higher ed
To the left the dumber the better. The left wants our children to have no self-respect. They want to
drive all ambition and achievement out of our youth. They are the Chi-Coms ally.
To anyone wondering how this will affect anyone but college applicants, it will become apparent when the sixty year old doc or dentist you go to retires. Many of those coming up the pipeline now are the products of the self esteem movement and ethnic quotas and think brash overconfidence can tackle any problem.
As I said before, welcome to the Department of DUHMACATION.
Do YOU want YOUR children and grandchildren to be part of and become, ‘DUH’?
Pull YOUR children and grandkids OUT of Public schools if YOU VALUE THEIR Education, Moral Values, and
U.S. Constitutional Rights.
So what their saying, no matter how little you know, we will allow to increase your student
loans by as much as we tell you in order to receive a useless degree in any useless field
you choose. Come to our school, we don’t care how little you know, we’ll take your MONEY !
Yeah, that will really help America !
DEPORT ALL liberals, illegals AND THE ONCE HONORABLE, fbi, STAT, TO MAGA
The only children standardized testing is stacked against is those with disabilities. Many states no longer have tests eliminating the usual test for a disability test to be given instead. This makes it much harder for those with ADD, ADHD, auditory processing disorder, and others to take them, especially when it comes to timed testing. I know, because I had three children with disorders myself, out of seven, and all my children were considered to be far above average when it came to their IQ levels and their abilities. We had seven children, but five of them were premature, so had auditory processing disorders and one that couldn’t be diagnosed, but was still a disorder. All needed a bit more time for testing. The same is true for many children, whether they are black, of Indian descent, Indigenous, Asian, White, Hispanic, or other. They may be very bright, but need a bit more time for testing. My niece is a genius but uses all of the time to get every answer correct, she is such a perfectionist. She cannot bear to have a wrong answer. She is OCD, obviously.
The Left’s idea of eliminating the rights of citizens equal under the law is to “favor” the rich and enslave the general population! . . . Communism, anybody?
Yes they want to “enslave” all of us who have worked so hard all of our lives. I took the SAT prior to my acceptance into UCLA and the MCA prior to my trying to get into Medical School. The only thing was with the MCAT I had not taken all my Pre-med courses. as I wanted to see if I should go on to school. I have worked in countries in health care where the prejudices would make you cry (soviet union and the middle east). I am just so sick of this “stuff” being shoved down our throat by the press and the left! I saw communism first hand and my husband saw socialism and communism first hand also, He was born in Berlin in 1938 and lived in East Berlin until the age of 18. I saw no prejudices in either of the two tests I took. Thank you for letting an old lady (82+) vent. Carol
To follow Russia, China