Journal Times editorial: SAT score shouldn't be the only measure of a student
Our Perspective

Journal Times editorial: SAT score shouldn't be the only measure of a student

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A standardized test is, by definition, a way to compare all the students who take it. But it’s not the only worthwhile way to measure an individual student.

Some students get too anxious about the significance of the test and don’t perform well on the day. Some students, on the day, don’t turn up adequately prepared, for reasons beyond their control.

But that doesn’t mean those students aren’t capable of handling the workload and the expectations of a given college or university. Their grade-point averages, their extracurricular activities, even their life experiences should also be examined in the process of determining if such students can enter a school and be expected to earn a degree.

About a third of Wisconsin’s private colleges and universities do not require standardized test scores to gain admission to their institutions, many of which dropped the requirement in recent years, the Wisconsin State Journal reported June 24.

Carthage College scrapped the requirement in 2016 and a small percentage of students took advantage, according to Ashley Hanson, associate vice president of admissions.

“Some (applicants) felt their test scores didn’t reflect their GPA,” she said. “Standardized tests are simply not a great way to judge a student.”

University of Wisconsin System campuses will probably not follow suit. UW System Board of Regents policy requires freshman applicants to submit standardized test scores.

Regent President Drew Petersen said in a recent interview that his “sense right now” is that the System is “committed to test scores.” But he also said he would like feedback from others and a chance to look at what the research says.It’s much harder to be admitted to UW-Madison than to some of the other UW campuses; some of that can be attributed to the prestige of the Madison campus, and its ability to lure high-performing students from out of state (whose out-of-state tuition checks are especially welcome).

But not every student who applies to UW-Madison as a high school senior is ready to succeed at UW-Madison. Some of those students might find another UW campus to be a better fit. Skeptics of the practice of making submitting test scores as optional — which includes the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT — defend standardized tests as a good predictor of college readiness. They also say that relying entirely on high school performance can be problematic with growing grade inflation, where teachers award higher grades than they did in the past or that students deserve.

We acknowledge that grade inflation is probably taking place at some southeast Wisconsin high schools. We also acknowledge that having standardized tests is, by definition, a way to hold all students to a single standard.

But not all students walk into the SAT exam room with the same advantages.

A 2018 study examining more than 950,000 applicants to 28 test-optional institutions found high school grades and first-year college GPAs were lower in students who did not submit test scores, but those students graduated at equal or slightly higher rates than those who submitted scores. And all but one of the institutions saw substantial increases in minority, low-income and first-generation students applying.In other words, students who don’t have an SAT score they’re especially proud can still become high-achieving college students.

A student’s SAT score shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all. But it should be a factor. We believe test scores should be part of a balanced measuring of the totality of a student’s activities and experiences. We want every student who chooses to pursue a college education to be able to attend an institution where he or she can be successful.

Colleges and universities are not one size fits all. We’re glad to see colleges and universities, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, recognize that standardized-test scores aren’t the only measure of a student.


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