The article on standardized testing in last week’s edition of the Collegian, written by Alex Johnson ’24, advocated for the return of standardized testing requirements on college applications. Kenyon has been test-optional since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This move came as the ongoing pandemic exacerbated barriers to access to standardized testing sites across the country, furthering the already-existing equity divide that standardized testing presents.
The beauty of a test-optional policy is just that — the tests are optional. Students who wish to submit their scores may do so, while students who feel their scores do not accurately represent them can choose to leave them out of their application. Complaining about a move that increases equity without making admissions harder for people who feel their standardized test scores represent them well is consistent with elitist, classist and racist ideals.
Even prior to the pandemic, standardized testing has been a facet of college admissions with questionable efficacy. It poses an indubitable threat to low-income students’ chances of admission into elite institutions such as this one. For a high school student to take both the SAT and ACT just once would already amount to over $100, which is simply not economically feasible for some families. Although the College Board and the ACT distribute fee waivers to low-income students to offset these costs, there are many hidden costs to standardized testing, including taking time off from work on test dates and the costs of transportation for those who live far from their nearest testing areas.
All these costs add up when one takes a standardized test more than once, a strategy which has been proven to improve scores, especially when one considers the power of the superscore (for which colleges like Kenyon take students’ highest subscores from across all testing dates to build the highest composite scores). This is not to mention expensive college coaches, tutors and test prep courses. Those who have the financial means to afford them and cultural capital to even know they exist will perform better, regardless of their intelligence.
On that note, it is important to consider that standardized tests do not measure innate ability. Contrary to Johnson’s claims, standardized testing is not a measure of intelligence.
Furthermore, standardized testing has a problematic legacy. According to the National Education Association, Dr. Carl Brigham (a known eugenicist) helped develop the military aptitude tests that influenced the development of the SAT. Brigham also wrote in a 1923 book that “racial mixture,” specifically the presence of Black people, would lead to the decline of American intelligence. This alone shows a legacy rooted in racism.
A 2017 Brookings Institute report cites both race and family income as contributing factors to the achievement gap in SAT testing, stating that test results replicate patterns of inequality in American society. One way it does that is detailed in a 2003 study in the Harvard Educational Review that asserted an important and common instance of bias in the SAT: On “easy” vocabulary questions, the presence of words that reflect white and middle- to upper-class values can be disproportionately difficult for lower-class and non-white test takers, who may be unfamiliar with all the different definitions and implications such words hold.
A biased test is not a fair test, and certainly not a fair marker of intelligence. If any student feels that the SAT or ACT represents them accurately, they should have the option to submit it. However, there should be no penalty to those who don’t.
Returning to the test requirement is anathema to Kenyon’s value of “equitable access to opportunity,” a value I believe we should all strive to uphold. A simple way to continue making this school a more equitable, diverse and welcoming institution is to maintain the test-optional policy. Recognizing the merits of this policy is recognizing the importance of educational equity, before and after the pandemic.
Valeria Garcia-Pozo is a co-president of the First Generation and Low-Income Student Organization. She is an English and Spanish double major and is from Athens, Ga. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.