Dartmouth claims that bringing back the SAT and standardized testing could help applicants from 'less resourced families'



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Dartmouth College is running back to its beloved standardized testing, like an ex popping their head back around after finding an excuse to say hello on a non-federal holiday (such as, but not limited to, the famed Groundhog Day). 

This past week, Dartmouth’s President Sian Leah Beilock announced that the institution would return to requiring applicants to submit SAT and ACT scores after a brief pause during the pandemic. The new policy begins with the prospective class of 2029. Much like an old flame, Dartmouth claims to have a legit reason for turning back to its past ways.

Beilock claims that Dartmouth’s decision to walk away from its test-optional policy was based on a recent study from a research group led by a team of economists and a sociologist. “Our analysis shows that we potentially miss out on some great applicants when we don’t have [test scores],” researcher Bruce Sacerdote told The Dartmouth. Beilock suggests the test-optional policy actually backfired against “less resourced families” as they might not choose to submit their scores for fear of them being too low. She adds that Dartmouth averages scores based on schools, and that submitting a test score can be a helpful way to see that a “student is really excelling in a less than perfect environment.”

The college process is already a pressure cooker that’s been dialed up to roasting chicken levels over the years. The application weighs heavily on high schoolers and their mental-health, as the system becomes one that has been gamed by the elite who are able to pour thousands of dollars into acquiring greater resources such as standardized testing tutors and college admissions consultants. Even when standardized scores are comparable, students from high-income households are more than twice as likely to get into an Ivy plus institution than their peers from low- or middle-income backgrounds, per a study from Opportunity Insights.

Children from advantaged backgrounds also likely have greater access to extracurriculars to add in their application and just a better-funded school system. Across the nation, public schools are suffering as they struggle to hire and retain teachers, and those in well-off districts often are less-subjected to these problems and worsening conditions. Another blow was dealt to the classically gatekeeping, racist, and classist higher-ed system in the nation when affirmative action was overruled this past summer.

As many students graduate with high student debt, some have begun to question if a private-school degree is worth it. Even so, the pull of an Ivy Leagues or Ivy Plus reputation and the promised high-pay or dream job after graduation still beckons to young adults. The SATs and ACTS have become the crown jewels of an application process that has received increased criticism for its elitism. And a Brookings study shows that there’s a pervasive racial gap when it comes to standardized test scores, as Black and Hispanic students often receive lower scores as a likely result of structural barriers to  education and housing.

Standardized tests become an issue of wealth, too, as a separate study from Opportunity Insights finds that children of the 1% are 13 times more likely to score a 1300 or higher on the tests than children of low-income families. But the application process is so skewed in the favor of wealthy, white students that standardized tests might be an unlikely way to combat this all, suggests David Leonhardt for the New York Times. He adds that despite their flaws, research from the Opportunity Insights shows a positive relationship between high test scores and how well a student does in college, regardless of where they went to high school.

That’s the tune Dartmouth is singing publicly, as Beilock maintains that the data from test scores is “an important predictor of a student’s success in Dartmouth’s curriculum” no matter the income or background of said applicant. A researcher from the group adds that some students that didn’t submit their scores could have been helped out “tremendously, maybe tripling their chance of admissions.” 

Whether the (re)addition of SAT and ACTs is a step back for a diverse admissions process or an unlikely boost for a more inclusive student body remains to be seen. One thing is certain, standardized tests are being reconsidered at Dartmouth, signaling a potential change across Ivy League and prestigious schools. 

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