New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Opinion: NYU needs to bring back mandatory standardized testing

Reinstating standardized test scores is, perhaps surprisingly, the equitable admissions policy NYU needs.
Alexandra Chan
(Alexandra Chan for WSN)

Recently, NYU announced that it will reevaluate whether it should make standardized tests mandatory for future admissions cycles. The announcement raised some concerns — after all, test optional policies have been thought to reduce discrimination toward lower-income and underrepresented students, and it seemed like this might be a step backward. But I was surprised to find that many universities were deciding to require test scores to help lower-income applicants, and for good reason.

At this point, Yale University, Brown University, Dartmouth College and now even Harvard University have announced a return to mandatory testing. Most of these schools saw that some lower-income applicants who had opted not to include their test scores in their applications would have been accepted if they had chosen to send their scores. Some universities will consider a student’s test score as an indicator of success within their community, so a student with a score that is lower than most applicants but higher than that of their high school peers still has a real shot at admission.

To best avoid discrimination based on income or background in the college application process, admissions criteria should be geared toward identifying students who are excelling among their peers, not comparing them to the whole country. This is especially the case because students across the country face vastly different realities when it comes to their high school education. Standardized testing is the exact tool for that job, and also provides an opportunity to legally sidestep the U.S. Supreme Court’s new restrictions on affirmative action in college admissions  in order to create a more diverse class. 

NYU has an opportunity to help disadvantaged applicants, get a better understanding of students’ academic backgrounds and ensure it can maintain a diverse class of students for years to come. It needs to seize it.

Not only would requiring standardized tests create a fairer admissions process, it would also help admit a more successful pool of students. A research paper published last year by Opportunity Insights shows that SAT and ACT scores are actually “highly predictive of post-college success.” Similarly, a team of three economists and a sociologist tasked with looking at admissions data at Dartmouth concluded that standardized test scores were a better predictor of academic success than high school grades, recommendation letters and essays.

The collective agreement in recent years has been that standardized testing disproportionately helps privileged students while hurting less advantaged students, and for a long time I was of the same belief. Lower-income students from more disadvantaged schools across the country have fewer academic resources at their disposal to help them succeed later on in life. 

But Raj Chetty, an economics professor at Harvard and one of the researchers on the Opportunity Insights paper, believes the score similarity between the SAT and NAEP, a test taken by elementary and middle school students that requires no test prep classes, strengthens the argument that the SAT is testing fundamental basics that will predict a student’s future academic success, not just how much wealth and resources they had access to in high school. 

NYU’s decision to return or not to standardized testing will affect tens of thousands of students across the country. If the science is sound, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t reinstate the standardized testing requirement. The university is also already test-flexible, which means students can submit various kinds of standardized tests to apply. This makes it easier for students to find a test that is accessible for them to complete ahead of the application process. 

That said, if NYU really does return to a mandatory testing policy, then it must be in an effort to help disadvantaged applicants and create a more equitable admissions process. Like at the aforementioned universities, test scores should be used only as a marker of success within applicants’ respective communities, not to boost NYU’s statistics. 

The university would also need to widely advertise how it considers test scores — as in, within the context of an applicant’s past educational opportunities — to avoid discouraging many qualified students from applying. The current median SAT scores for admitted NYU students, 1470 to 1570, might be misleading for applicants who would be able to get in with a lower score given their background.

Using standardized tests to identify students who excelled in their environment means that more students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds will get the chance they deserve at a college education. If implemented correctly, a mandatory testing policy could be a huge step forward in addressing inequitable admissions processes.

Contact Noah Zaldivar at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Alexandra Chan
Alexandra Chan, Editor-at-Large
Alexandra Chan is a junior studying history, politics and East Asian studies. She has done her time in the basement dungeon state of mind and can't really seem to let go. Follow her @noelle.png on Instagram for inconsistent posting but aesthetically pleasing rows. She doesn't know what Twitter is.

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