EDUCATION | Test-optional admissions policies haven’t improved campus diversity
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Colleges that jettisoned standardized test requirements are now struggling to admit students fairly without them, according to Vanderbilt University researcher Kelly Slay.
Her research is ongoing but so far includes 16 colleges and universities. Four of them went test-optional several years ago, while the rest dropped requirements during the pandemic. Slay told The Hechinger Report that even admissions officers who had years of experience with the test-optional process didn’t know how to implement it fairly. For instance, most did not have guidance on how to weigh an application with good SAT or ACT scores against an application without them.
“It’s really hard to ignore test scores if that’s the way you were trained to review applications and think about merit,” Slay said.
Admissions officers also said test-optional policies have greatly increased the number of applications for selective schools, but staffing has thinned since the pandemic due to layoffs or resignations. That means many admissions officers make potentially life-changing decisions while rushed and confused—perfect conditions for implicit bias, according to Slay. Advocates for test-optional policies often tout their potential to increase diversity in admissions, since wealthy students can afford to pay for tutoring to improve their test scores. But several recent studies showed no diversity increase at test-optional schools.
“I think the students that do have the strong test scores still do have that advantage,” one admissions officer told Slay.
Vouchers target learning loss
A new Indiana program is giving families of fourth and fifth graders up to $1,000 to pay for tutoring. Indiana Learns aims to help students from private, charter, and district schools who fell behind during the pandemic. It follows Brown University research showing that frequent tutoring in small groups can accelerate learning by 10 months. Children who receive school lunch assistance and who failed to meet math and English benchmarks on the state’s ILEARN test qualify for the program. Parents choose their child’s tutor, but receive a financial incentive if the child’s school participates in the tutoring program. Both parents and schools will receive weekly updates on students’ progress. “We want to give parents and families some agency to get involved and support their own child,” said Katie Jenner, Indiana’s secretary of education. Indiana Learns plans to help 15,000 students in the next two years. —E.R.
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