They’re making their lists, checking them twice, trying to decide who’s in and who’s not. Once again, it’s admissions season, and tensions are running high as university leaders wrestle with challenging decisions that will affect the future of their schools. Chief among those tensions, in the past few years, has been the question of whether standardized tests should be central to the process.
In 2021, the University of California system ditched the use of all standardized testing for undergraduate admissions. California State University followed suit last spring, and in November, the American Bar Association voted to abandon the LSAT requirement for admission to any of the nation’s law schools beginning in 2025. Many other schools have lately reached the same conclusion. Science magazine reports that among a sample of 50 U.S. universities, only 3 percent of Ph.D. science programs currently require applicants to submit GRE scores, compared with 84 percent four years ago. And colleges that dropped their testing requirements or made them optional in response to the pandemic are now feeling torn about whether to bring that testing back.
Proponents of these changes have long argued that standardized tests are biased against low-income students and students of color, and should not be used. The system serves to perpetuate a status quo, they say, where children whose parents are in the top 1 percent of income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League university than children whose parents are in the bottom quintile. But those who still endorse the tests make the mirror-image claim: Schools have been able to identify talented low-income students and students of color and give them transformative educational experiences, they argue, precisely because those students are tested.