College admissions are a hot issue in my household. My eldest son, 16, attends a rigorous Jesuit high school where A's are hard to come by. Other parents in our social circle, whose children attended the same junior high as my son, chose less exacting schools partly because they wanted their kids to have a better chance of racking up impressive GPAs. The debate over how best to equip a child for the college-admissions process has become particularly timely after the Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, as many on the Left and in academia continue to oppose standardized testing despite its serving as an objective measure of student performance.
A significant opinion gap exists between liberal elites and ordinary Americans on the issues of standardized testing and affirmative action in college admissions. A 2022 Pew survey, for example, found that 86 percent of Americans think that scores on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT should factor into the college-admissions process. But the small group who oppose the use of standardized tests, often claiming such tests are racist, constitute an influential minority, vastly overrepresented in academia and politics.
Several prominent Democrats and progressives oppose mandatory standardized testing. President Biden and Jill Biden, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Ed Markey, and Representatives Ilhan Omar and Jamaal Bowman all oppose the use of such tests in college admissions. Biden, when running as a candidate in 2019, said that he would eliminate standardized testing in public K-12 schools—that is, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, also known as “the nation’s report card,” mandated in public schools by the Department of Education. But he has not yet done so, to many teachers’ dismay.
Similarly, many university professors and administrators oppose standardized tests. According to the New York Times, 1,075 four-year colleges and universities before the pandemic had made it optional to submit test scores, and another 750 did the same after the outbreak. The Daily, a Times podcast, recently asserted that while some schools are reinstituting their test requirements, very few elite schools (save for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have done so. All the Ivies remain test-optional, as do dozens of other elite universities. This year, more than 1,900 schools with bachelor’s degree programs aren’t requiring the SAT or ACT, according to FairTest, a nonprofit that opposes mandatory standardized testing in schools.
Of course, many schools are trying to evade the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action. According to The Daily podcast, making tests optional protects such schools from legal liability. Without test scores to refer to, students will have a harder time proving reverse discrimination in court. Students’ GPAs, especially in an era of grade inflation, present a less objective and legally compelling picture of their performance than do standardized tests. According to the ACT, average student GPAs have climbed from 3.17 in 2010 to 3.36 in 2021, at a time when educational achievement had declined, according to the NAEP.
By rejecting tests like the SAT and ACT and prioritizing high school GPAs, colleges are creating a perverse incentive for students like my younger son (an eighth-grader applying to high schools) to seek out less challenging schools. While we’re strong believers in Jesuit schools and hope that he can attend the same high school as his older brother, we worry that he may have an easier time getting into a competitive college if he were to attend a less rigorous school. I have already seen some of my older son’s peers, who got lower grades than he did in junior high, getting near-4.0 GPAs without much effort at our local public school. I would not worry about this but for competitive schools eliminating or diminishing the importance of the SAT.
Public universities should require applicants to take, and submit their scores on, the SAT or ACT. According to the Department of Education, 17 states require high school students in public schools to take either the SAT or ACT to assess whether schools are meeting requirements under the federal school accountability law. And yet, in several of these states, including Indiana, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Colorado, public universities don’t require applicants to submit those scores.
Many colleges deemphasize or ignore the SAT and ACT because they want to keep giving preferences to certain applicants on the basis of race—mostly to the benefit of middle- and upper-class minorities, not impoverished ones. A broad cross-section of Americans, however, disagrees with this race obsession, and continues to support standardized tests. Progressives in academia and politics would be well served to drop their knee-jerk opposition to the SAT and ACT, which level the playing field in a country full of high schools with wildly different standards.
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