HGSE experts split on benefits of standardized testing | News
Despite a nationwide move away from standardized testing amid the pandemic, experts at the Harvard Graduate School of Education are divided on the future of college admissions and K-12 testing.
After initially waiving its testing requirement in June 2020 due to Covid-19, Harvard announced in December 2021 that it would allow applicants in the Class of 2030 to waive ACT and SAT grade submissions.
The move comes amid a trend toward elective or blind admissions, with colleges across the country, such as the University of California system, taking similar steps. The College Board also decided in 2021 that it would permanently discontinue its SAT subject tests, as well as the SAT essay component.
Education experts are divided on whether the changes would move the college admissions process toward equity or away from it.
HGSE graduate Toby N. Romer ’94, who is the assistant superintendent of Newton Public Schools, noted that moving away from standardized testing can “level the playing field” among high school students.
“In fact, the college admissions testing industry was created to intentionally disadvantage certain groups of students,” he said. “So getting away from that is just good news.”
Romer added that he believes “a diverse sample” of Newton public school students have benefited from elective or blind testing policies.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of good data to show that college admissions tests have been a good predictor of student success at selective colleges,” he said.
But two HGSE professors pointed out that a lack of standardized test scores would lead admissions officers to put more emphasis on other parts of the application.
HGSE Professor Andrew D. Ho said letters of recommendation, personal essays, extracurricular activities and a student’s academic record can be weighed more heavily in the absence of test scores.
“If you imagine a five-legged stool or a five-legged table and you take one of the legs off, well, everything just rests on the other four,” he said.
HGSE Professor Thomas J. Kane said other application components, such as after-school programs, can lead to more inequity and are highly dependent on the resources available to students. He added that elite high schools may be able to provide more opportunities for student leadership positions.
“Even though SAT scores are correlated with family background, family income, they may be less correlated with family background than some of these other metrics that colleges should rely on in a world without test scores,” Kane said. .
The debate over the future of standardized testing extends beyond the college admissions process. The effects of Covid-19 on learning loss in elementary and middle schools remain somewhat unknown, creating demand from educators and government officials to test the data.
“There is an ongoing need to have some kind of comparative indicators that tell policy makers – and taxpayers for that matter – whether or not students from different districts in the state are learning at a level that prepares them to enter the society as successful workers and citizens,” said HGSE professor Paul Reville.
Reville also said the costs of scrapping standardized tests altogether could have a huge impact on disadvantaged students, pointing to “grossly inequitable outcomes” before schools began administering standardized tests.
“We know who loses in this,” he said. “The poor kids lose. Children with special needs lose. English language learners lose. Students of color lose.
Despite the potential pitfalls of revising current standardized testing practices, Ho said he was optimistic about his future.
“I think this calculation of educational tests will, on average, improve equity in education,” he said. “But it will take a long time, and in the meantime the results will vary.”
—Editor Paton D. Roberts can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @paton_dr.
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