Some Random Thoughts on Going Test-Optional

Now that we’ve begun to receive applications for 2012, a few interesting things cross my mind:

  • First, so far, only about five percent of our applicants are choosing to apply test optional.  That’s lower than I thought it would be, but perhaps it shows that people know we’ve always emphasized GPA more than test scores, anyway.  (As we should, I might add).
  • Second, I still wonder why so many people are so adamantly opposed to what we’re doing.  Pencilnerd rants regularly, tweeting the same inflammatory and self-serving articles from his blog, none of which contains a shred of data except College Board studies that no one (to the best of my knowledge) has ever been able to come close to duplicating.  But as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”
  • Regarding the test prep industry: If you believe that the tests measure something real and academically predictive, are you thus saying that your services make high school students into better college students?  Hmmm.
  • It really is very liberating to think of students as students, and not as test-taking robots.
  • I’ve never said the ACT and SAT are bad.  I’ve never really even thought that. Certainly, students who score well have something on the ball, and that’s probably important for extraordinarily selective places who want to make fine (even meaningless) distinctions between a bunch of 3.9999 and 4.0 students.  But everyone knows really smart people who aren’t great on multiple choice, standardized tests.  Missing out on the opportunity to educate them would be a shame.  Education has been taken over by a test with a low incidence of false positive, because the Ivy League institutions need it.  And too many places want to be like the Ivy Leagues.
  • A colleague sent me his copy of “College Admissions and the Public Interest” by B. Alden Thresher, the former dean of admission at MIT.  It was written in 1966, but pretty much predicted everything we’re experiencing today.  I’m sorry I never had a chance to meet him.
This was all focused by our dinner conversation last night.  We talked about high school students (I have two of them in my house) and how it seems they sometimes lack some critical thinking and writing skills.  (I know this is not a novel opinion for a 52-year old man to have.) I posited after attending college prep sessions at our local high school that our national focus on standardized testing, i.e. choosing correctly on a multiple choice test, has broken down our tolerance for ambiguity, discussion, and real learning. Call it the Fox News Phenomenon, if you like.
And, in some sense, I guess I actually do understand why some people are so opposed to what we’re doing.
(If you’d like to see my slides outlining our thinking on test-optional: Why we did it, and how it will work, you can see a presentation I gave to High School Counselors here.)

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