Last week, Columbia University became the first Ivy League school to permanently scrap its standardized test requirement, allowing hopeful applicants to skip the dreaded SAT and ACT.
The move makes the prestigious New York City school the latest in a string of elite institutions to move away from the tests as the argument that standardized testing harms minority students picks up steam. Previously, a low SAT or ACT score meant automatic elimination at many top-tier schools.
In a March 1 release, Columbia University wrote that “students are dynamic, multi-faceted individuals who cannot be defined by any single factor.” The admissions process respects the “varied backgrounds, voices and experiences” of students in order to determine whether a student will thrive at the school, Columbia said. Students may still submit test scores, but those who do not will not be at a disadvantage.
During the pandemic, many universities — including Harvard and Princeton — jumped at the chance to indefinitely suspend their standardized test admission requirements while in-person testing was on hold. Now, some like Columbia don’t want to go back.
In 2020, the entire 10-school University of California system voted to permanently get rid of standardized tests. The move came after a lawsuit from students claiming the tests are racist and biased against disabled students. New York University, Cornell College, George Washington University, and University of Chicago have also joined the ranks of those that allow students to skip the tests.
This fall, more than 80% of undergraduate colleges will not require ACT or SAT scores from students, according to one estimate.
The SAT and ACT are also not the only standardized tests schools are ditching over “equity” concerns. Dozens of law schools have scrapped their LSAT test requirement. Advocates are even pushing for medical schools to stop requiring the MCAT, alarming critics who worry that schools could end up graduating less qualified doctors, putting patients at risk.
The argument that standardized tests are inherently racist has given rise to eyebrow-raising explanations for why minority students on the whole do worse on these tests. Black students perform poorly on standardized tests because they fear incorrect answers will confirm negative stereotypes about their race — they perform badly because they’re afraid of performing badly, essentially — a 2011 Stanford University study found.
A more plausible explanation is that minority students often come from low-income backgrounds and neighborhoods where students may not have support systems or quality schools helping them prepare well for the test.
Now, a new deadline has turned up the pressure on schools to get rid of standardized tests.
The Supreme Court is preparing to rule against affirmative action this summer. This means universities will have to find new ways to keep their student body diverse, like eliminating standardized testing.
The high court is widely expected to rule in June that affirmative action is unconstitutional and racist in a pair of cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina. A group called Students for Fair Admissions sued the schools, accusing them of unfairly factoring race into their admissions process. The group pointed to the high test scores of Asian-American and white applicants who were rejected.
Universities, including selective ones, are scrambling to find ways to replace affirmative action.
Cornell has established a task force to figure out how to recruit diverse classes if the Supreme Court nixes affirmative action. The University of California system board of regents banned affirmative action back in 1995, so UC adopted roundabout ways of trying to identify minority students such as poor neighborhoods and family income. Some schools may now follow in UC’s footsteps.
Hans Bader, a longtime civil rights lawyer who worked in the federal Office for Civil Rights, said schools are trying to “reduce reliance on merit-based criteria” ahead of the ruling.
“They hope that by doing so, the number of admitted black applicants will increase as a result,” Bader told The Daily Wire. “They hope that will offset the result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, which could make it much harder for them to give an overt racial preference to black applicants in admissions, and thus could reduce the number of admitted black applicants significantly.”
“Their students will be dumber as a result,” Bader predicted.