Every year, a new class arrives at Tufts, bringing fresh change to our community on the Hill. It is too early to know what contributions the Class of 2025 will make when they arrive on campus, but they have already made history in one way — the Class of 2025 was not required to submit standardized test scores as part of the application process.
The College Board debuted the SAT in 1926 as the creation of the Princeton eugenicist Carl Brigham. Over the course of nearly a century, the exam — along with its counterpart, the ACT — became a staple in the college admissions process, persisting even in the face of cheating scandals and questions over whether such exams perpetuate social inequalities. But in 2020, the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shook that system. According to the College Board, just 1.4 million students in the high school class of 2021 have taken the SAT at some point — far fewer than the 2.2 million SAT test-takers in the class of 2020.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the already stressful exam process was made more burdensome as students encountered fewer test dates and traveled longer distances to the few sites that administered the exam. These conditions prompted many colleges to suspend their standardized testing requirement, including Tufts, which adopted a test-optional policy for three years, beginning with the admissions season for the Class of 2025. When that three-year window elapses, the university will have a critical decision to make: Tufts can either bring back its standardized testing requirement, making future generations go through the same process that current Tufts students endured, or it can repeat the process used to admit the Class of 2025, which saw the most diverse applicant pool in the university’s history.
The problems with standardized testing go beyond the stress of sitting down for the exam. Using these tests to determine college admissions perpetuates inequalities along lines of race and class, inequalities that Tufts should be working to abolish, not reinforce. A study using the data of students who applied to the University of California system showed that race, family income and parental education are all significant predictors of a student’s SAT or ACT score, projecting a student’s test score more accurately than a student’s high school GPA can. In this form, standardized testing only adds to the barriers for first-generation college students, low-income students and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to enroll at Tufts. Tufts must tear down the barriers that sustain inequality, and standardized tests should be the first on the chopping block.
One defense of these tests is that they are standardized and therefore can be a more reliable predictor of college success than metrics like high school GPA, which vary by school. However, the relationship between a student’s high school GPA and their chance of college graduation is stronger than the relationship between a student’s ACT score and their chance of graduation, according to a 2020 study by researchers at the University of Chicago. This should challenge the notion that standardized testing is a necessary evil; other metrics exist that are both more predictive of college success and less associated with a student’s race or class.
The changes to standardized testing policies due to COVID-19 present an opportunity for Tufts to reject a system more effective at perpetuating inequality than evoking true academic discovery and potential. To stay true to our institution’s values and pursue the goal of attracting the brightest students — regardless of their socioeconomic status — Tufts should continue to be test-optional even after the three-year window expires. In addition, Tufts should be transparent and release the acceptance rate statistics for students who opted both in and out of submitting scores to assure prospective applicants that they will not be penalized for not submitting scores. Finally, Tufts must research the potential benefits of foregoing standardized test scores in the admissions process altogether, using the coming years to evaluate how admitting students who opt out of submitting scores influences the university.
We have previously called for the Tufts community to aspire towards a “new normal” after the pandemic subsides that is both more inclusive and equitable than the world we were living in before. Using this three-year experiment with test-optional admissions as a springboard for permanent change would allow us to embrace that mission, leaving behind a flawed admissions requirement that perpetuates inequalities we should be working to destroy.