COVID-19, the deadly virus that has inflicted unprecedented levels of hardship upon the globe, will, paradoxically, usher in a new era of long-awaited fairness into the process of college admissions.
The emergence of COVID-19 has proven itself to be a harbinger of serious change in how we conduct our lives and how our institutions function. Companies that never before considered the magnitude of cost-cutting that work-from-home policies have afforded are now witnessing and embracing the benefits. The fate of movie theaters — a hallmark of American entertainment — has been sealed with the surge of streaming-service adoption. And much like the forward-thinking countries in the East, face masks and a focus on cleanliness will be here to stay.
The world of college admissions will not be spared from this trend. COVID-19 has proven to be a great un-equalizer, exacerbating the advantages the privileged wield at the expense of the marginalized. The inequality present in the system has ratcheted to a level that is impossible to ignore, a fact that will put the final nails in the coffin of standardized testing in admissions.
For almost a century now, juniors and seniors in high school have taken on the unimaginable stress of studying for the SAT and ACT to get a score up to college’s standards. Now, they might not have to — and that’s a good thing. These tests were invented in the early 90s to be indicators of a student’s intelligence and ability to thrive at top schools. However, the obvious, long-standing inequity of standardized testing and the college applications industry as a whole has created obstacles in this process. The College Board released data explaining that “with each additional $20,000 in family income, a student’s average test score rises.” Score gaps also vary a large amount between races, “with whites and Asians outscoring Black and Latino students by as many as 277 points.” Giving everybody the same test still does not put everyone on the same playing field, proving it to be an inadequate way to show capability as an applicant.
In 1969, Bowdoin College made the first bold move to become test-optional to allow for more diversity on campus. In a contributed article to the BDN, it explained how not requiring tests would allow for further diversity as it “favors the affluent, penalizes minorities and doesn’t predict academic success.” Over 1,000 schools have followed Bowdoin’s footsteps in the years since.
Since chaos struck in March, the cancellations of testing in spring and summer have left rising seniors high and dry. Since then, hundreds of schools have gone test-optional. With the uncertainty of testing in the fall, and having to make the deadlines of applications, students would have an unfair opportunity to get into college without the flexibility colleges are providing. Without a doubt, many colleges and universities will stick with this option, and begin to focus more on other parts of students’ applications, such as their personal statement and high school GPA.
Between the inequality that is upheld by the SAT and ACT, and the pandemic making it difficult to have testing opportunities, schools going test-optional will only benefit students in the long run and will be the start to getting all kids an equal opportunity. Standardized testing was already on the downhill. COVID-19 did not cause its demise; the virus only catalyzed it.