Justin Peligri: Make the SAT and ACT optional

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Justin Peligri

The American education system is said to revolve around the concept of meritocracy. In theory, the smartest people rise to the top of their classes and get into the best schools.

This idea sounds good in theory, but it fails in practice.

“The problem is that, over time, the inequality…has produced mechanisms – most significantly the growing test prep industry – that largely subvert the single method whereby mobility is achieved,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes wrote in his book, “Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.”

Here’s the problem: How well students test largely depends on how much money their families can spend on tutoring. So our focus on standardized tests means that admission to college depends on economic status instead of intellectual capability or personal accomplishments.

Hayes refers to his alma mater, Hunter High School College, which only admits students with the highest state tests scores. But there’s a heavy relaince on the SATs and ACTs in the admissions process.

Tests that gauge academic aptitude are inherently flawed and unequal, because in many cases, a person’s ability to afford test preparation can determine how high they score. That’s why the University should look to move to a test-optional system that would allow, but not force, students to submit SATs and ACTs.

Granted, the University does take into account other aspects of a student’s application, including a high school transcript, an application essay and in some cases, an interview.

But in today’s competitive era, students still feel compelled to take exams multiple times and get tutors for preparation, which becomes expensive.

The University tries to promote a culture of socio-economic inclusiveness by touting that nearly 60 percent of students receive financial aid. Getting rid of the SAT and ACT requirement is another way to make the college application process fairer and more affordable.

The University has already started to move away from relying on standardized tests as an indicator of student success. It does not mandate that students submit SAT subject test scores, unlike other universities, including Georgetown.

If GW decided to go test-optional, it certainly wouldn’t be the first to do so. Nearly one quarter of American colleges and universities offer some sort of test-optional alternative, according to educational organization FairTest. This list includes American and New York universities, both of which do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores when they apply.

Besides, the main skill standardized tests measure is how well students can take tests. They don’t show how hard students work in school or the amount of improvement they make in a subject over the course of a semester.

It makes sense to place more emphasis on three years’ worth of hard work, rather than a single four- or five-hour test at 9 a.m. on a Saturday.

If the University is unwilling to do away with standardized testing completely, administrators could adopt a program similar to Middlebury College. There, students are required to take standardized tests, but they have the option of submitting three subject tests instead of being restricted to only the SATs or ACTs.

This allows students to take tests in their strongest academic areas, meaning their affinity for a subject could help them succeed, as opposed to having to expend financial resources on a tutor to learn test-taking strategies.

Some students will inherently perform poorly on the SATs and the ACTs, no matter how intelligent they are. Yet others can receive a near-perfect score without putting an ounce into studying. But that shouldn’t necessarily warrant a higher likelihood of acceptance into an elite university.

We’d like to believe the education system is meritocratic, that every student who applies to a school has an equal chance of getting in. It should emphasize giving all applicants an equal chance. It should be a meritocracy.

But until the SATs and ACTs are rendered obsolete or optional, attaining success from hard work alone is nothing more than a pipe dream.

–The writer, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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