Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Standardized testing as we know it cannot return

We should not go back to ‘business as usual’ following the effects of the pandemic and recent governmental decisions
Shilpa Sweth
Daily Collegian (2023)

Earlier this month, Harvard announced they would once again require standardized test scores for applications, following suit with other Ivy League schools such as Yale, Dartmouth, Brown and MIT. This decision goes back on their previous promise to allow students to go test-optional until the entering class of 2026, bringing more stress to this fall’s applicants. And while Harvard claims they will consider applicants without scores, there is little chance they will be accepted. After the pandemic and the damage it wrought on our education system, does it really make sense to go back to that same system?

When COVID-19 first hit the United States, finding standardized testing sites became extremely difficult. Many, including myself, signed up only for the testing site to cancel a few days before, or for the location to be as far as an hour away. It only made sense to suspend the requirement when it wasn’t accessible to everyone.

But standardized testing wasn’t completely accessible before the pandemic. With the test designed by eugenicist Carl Brigham, it was made to segregate testers based on race, and later class. Research has found that while the test can determine student readiness to an extent, it continues to sustain underlying biases to this day. Now, students with families who have more disposable income can take these tests — sometimes multiple times — whereas underprivileged communities do not have this advantage. The test has always preyed upon separating students by race and class.

After the pandemic, these problems have only been exacerbated. COVID negatively affected people across the country, with marginalized and low-income communities particularly impacted by wage loss and illness. On top of this, Affirmative Action ended just last year, a measure that will further prevent additional opportunity and consideration for minority applicants. With the gutting of affirmative action and communities only just now recovering from the aftermath of COVID, standardized testing will widen the rifts that prevent underprivileged communities from seeking higher education. Even the institutions understand how this decision will impact prospective students. The president of Brown University, Christian Paxon, acknowledgedin a Brown Alumni Magazine letter that requiring these tests again will diminish the “size and diversity of the applicant pool.” The letter fully acknowledges the detrimental effect of affirmative action but remains steadfast in its commitment to standardized testing over other unbiased methods of judgment.

The reasoning behind this return to standardized testing is due to GPA inflation, which is a valid concern. However, I don’t understand why we need to return to College Board and their nonsensical form of testing rather than developing other methods. We have known for years the history behind College Board, their insane pricing of tests and the implicit biases behind the creation of it. The organization replaced government-mandated testing and cornered the market on standardized testing. Why not develop a new governmentally mandated test with less bias, or seek a new company to develop standardized tests? Testing does allow for valuable insights, so we should put the time and effort into making them affordable and accessible.

At the same time, we need to realize that there are other ways to judge a student’s merit. Emory University asked for students who went test-optional to submit classwork that reflected their academic strength and passion. This is a useful assessment of ability and passion, especially for students that don’t test well or have demonstrable talents better shown outside of the testing room. It allows students to showcase their talents with resources provided to them freely by the government rather than an outside source that requires large payments with each test.

What’s most concerning about this return to standardized testing is the variety of students negatively affected by the pandemic over a wide range of ages. We’re currently seeing that many students are missing large chunks of knowledge in different areas. Natasha Jankowski, who was formerly the executive director for the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, emphasizes the need to find new forms of assessment in the face of these learning disparities. These gaps of knowledge are not just consistent with the past few graduating classes of students; we’ll continue to see children affected over the next decade. If children had to go through lower quality teaching during the pandemic that left them academically unprepared, there needs to be new assessments or a continuation of alternative options of judgment.

This is the wrong time to return to standardized testing, and we are returning to the same system that took advantage of many students before the pandemic. From learning disparities to exploitative testing to the revocation of affirmative action, it is time to seek new forms of assessment beyond College Board to promote fairness and true education.

Hailey Furilla can be reached at [email protected].

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