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Here's why SAT and ACT exams are back on more students' college paths


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A growing number of elite colleges and universities have changed their policies on standardized tests, which became an optional application step in 2020 as a Covid pandemic adjustment. Now Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other again require SAT or ACT scores from prospects. They cite new research saying the exams are useful for helping decide who gets and are beneficial for marginalized students. Strong scores from students of lower-income backgrounds indicate that they'll generally excel academically, admission counselors say

A study issued by four professors at Dartmouth University in Hanover, N.H., in January called test scores a better indicator of college performance than grades, essays or teacher recommendations. Similarly, Yale posted last month: "Test scores are the single greatest predictor of a student's future Yale grades." Goergetown and Perdue also shifted back to mandatory entry exams. They're still optional at four Ivy League schools – Princeton, Cornell, Harvard and Columbia – and at public campuses that include the University of Michigan, University of Utah and every New Jersey college. California's huge university system is sticking with its four-year-old "test blind" approach of not looking at national test results, even if submitted. "UC remains committed to maintaining a fair admissions process that reviews every applicant in a comprehensive manner and endeavors to combat systemic inequities," says a spokesman.

The exams remain optional for fall 2025 applicants at most campuses. An anti-testing movement has long claimed that standardized tests reinforce racial and economic inequality and that reliance on them harms students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The largest teachers' union urges colleges to drop admissions testing requirements. "All students deserve and have the ability to demonstrate knowledge in many ways that are measurable by those who know them best – their educators," says Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, which has three million members.

In related news, high school students took a new all-digital SAT for the first time this month, moving from paper and pencils to screens and keypads. They brought laptops, Chromebooks or iPads, or used a College Board loaner. Downloaded software kept them from checking the internet for answers. Revised reading and writing sections replace page-long reading excerpts with eight to 11 short passages followed by one question each. Advanced Placement tests and some state exams already were given in digital format.

Top administrator says: "SAT and ACT scores can be especially helpful in identifying students from less-resourced backgrounds who would succeed at Dartmouth but might otherwise be missed in a test-optional environment." -- Sian Leah Beilock, university president

Critic says: "The revised [digital SAT] test is not a better or fairer predictor of undergraduate success." – Bob Schaeffer, education of a Brookyn, N.Y., group called the National Center for Fair & Open Testing

Test backers say: They level the playing field, eliminating an advantage for seniors from families who can afford test prep courses and coaches.

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.