Standardized test scores divide Stanford

Feb. 26, 2024, 11:41 p.m.

Dartmouth College and Yale University both recently announced that they would be requiring standardized test scores in undergraduate admissions, following a four year pause on the requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stanford, which made their 2020-2021 admissions cycle, along with all cycles since, test-optional, has not yet made an official statement about whether they plan to reimplement standardized test scores.

The COVID-19 pandemic raised challenges for students applying to college as many did not have the opportunity to sit for the SAT and ACT, leading many universities to implement test-optional policies. However, as pandemic restrictions decrease, and an increased number of standardized testing sittings available, several universities have since scrapped their test-optional policies.

But some, like the University of California system, permanently eliminated standardized test requirements.

According to Richard Ford, a professor at Stanford Law School (SLS), standardized test scores provide universities with a scalable metric in the admissions process. Without standardized test scores to use as a metric, Ford wrote that judging applicants based on “grades and high school reputation … might be as bad or worse [than standardized testing] with respect to class and race bias.”

Driven by similar concerns to those raised by Ford, Dartmouth announced they would reinstate pre-pandemic testing policies after research indicated that test scores were a valuable marker of student success at Dartmouth. Without a submitted SAT or ACT score, greater emphasis was placed on applicants’ grades and letters of recommendation, which the study concluded could hurt students from low-income backgrounds because there would be less to review.  

However, Ford acknowledged the significant financial and time-based burden that standardized tests can place on students.

“I don’t think it is good that selective universities encourage high school students to spend time and money on test prep — cramming for a test is not the kind of hard work we should value,” Ford wrote.

Students from Stanford’s most recent frosh cohort expressed varying perspectives on standardized testing in applications.

Shayaan Memon ’27 shared that he believes standardized test results reveal information about applicants not otherwise available during the college admission process. According to Memon, “The SAT is a good thing because it gets rid of people faking their grades in high school classes where most high schools are unable to verify students performing without cheating.”

“Some students receive A’s in AP classes yet do poorly on the SAT,” Memon said.

However, Lauren Tapper ’27 and Uchenna Abba ’27 both expressed greater reservations towards standardized testing. 

Tapper said that she believes standardized testing can “enforce inequality.” 

“Wealthier students can afford prep classes and private tutors, giving them unfair advantages in college admission processes where tests are required and part of admission decision-making rubrics,” Tapper said.

For Abba, standardized tests should only be required with changes to the test’s current design. “If the SAT is modified to more accurately depict students’ knowledge then it should be reinstated.” 

However, at Stanford, applications are reviewed holistically. According to Rich Shavelson, an education psychologist at the Graduate School of Education (GSE), the holistic review prevents admissions officers from reducing students to a score.

“There are no minimum test scores required to be admitted to Stanford, and there is no score that guarantees admission,” he said.

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