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Geoff Johnson: Colleges increasingly waiving standardized tests for admission

Nearly 2,000 colleges and universities across the U.S. have publicly announced that they will not require the SAT or American College Testing for admission in fall 2022.
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In Canada, standardized tests like the Scholastic Aptitude test are not used as general admission requirements to many colleges and universities. Traditionally, students simply present a high school diploma and the grades of their top six Grade 12 courses for ­consideration. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The ongoing debate about use of ­standardized testing took on fresh life recently with the news that an ­American Bar Association committee has ­recommended that law schools eliminate the requirement of an admission test.

The major problem with using ­standardized tests as a measure of ­potential achievement, says the ABA, is that most tests can measure only a ­portion of the larger goals of education, or in this case, the specific purposes of a law education, which are necessarily more inclusive and precise than a test could possibly gauge.

Leaders in the American Bar ­Association have said that they are less concerned about student performance on an entrance exam than how students do in law school — whether they remain enrolled and how soon they pass the bar exam after graduation.

The committee’s recommendation follows a trend at some colleges and ­universities to waive standardized ­testing requirements for admission, amid ­criticism that wealthier students have advantages, such as the ability to afford preparatory coaching for admissions tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (the SAT).

Last May, leadership at the ­University of California voted to permanently ­eliminate use of test scores for ­admission. Harvard, however, will remain test-score-optional at least through fall 2026, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Nearly 2,000 colleges and universities across the U.S. have publicly announced that they will not require the SAT or ACT (American College Testing) for admission in fall 2022. That’s more than 75% of the degree-granting institutions in the U.S.

In Canada, standardized tests like the Scholastic Aptitude test are not used as general admission requirements to many colleges and universities. Traditionally, students simply present a high school diploma and the grades of their top six Grade 12 courses for consideration.

Some schools around the country are also incorporating direct demonstrations of student performance in non-academic areas into their entrance assessments.

These proofs of potential success include projects, individual and group presentations, reports and papers and portfolios of work collected over time.

Entry to more competitive programs may require a larger application, ­including a personal statement and/or resumé.

As psychometrician Daniel Koretz, one of the U.S.’s foremost experts on ­educational testing, argues in his latest book, The Testing Charade, the whole idea of test-based accountability has failed — it has increasingly become an end in itself, harming students and corrupting the very ideals of teaching.

Koretz calls out high-stakes testing as “a sham, a false idol that is ripe for manipulation and shows little evidence of leading to educational improvement.”

And Koretz is not alone among ­assessment experts in his distaste for high-stakes standardized testing.

Dr. Gerald Bracey, an influential American education policy researcher at the American Education Policy Centre, was best known for the annual “Bracey Report,” in which he analyzed current trends in education, often in opposition to prevailing educational policies.

Bracey listed some of the ­characteristics that standardized tests do not measure, but that are educationally desirable: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, perseverance, curiosity, enthusiasm, self-discipline and resourcefulness.

Interestingly, the Conference Board of Canada lists among its published list of employability skills the ability to locate and manage information, to assess, weigh and manage risk, to work independently or as part of a team, and to carry out ­multiple tasks or projects.

Again, while desirable, these ­characteristics are not easy to measure, either in a potential employee or, more importantly, in a student seeking access to a college or university program.

Daniel Laitsch, associate professor of education at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, points out that standardized test results are often politicized — often to the detriment of students. Laitsch says that politicians will use the results in re-election campaigns to show that their policies are working.

In addition, some ideologically based groups use test results to rank schools. That data is sometimes misused by real estate agents to sell houses in ­purportedly “good” school districts.

Winston Churchill had his own take on tests and exams: “I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew. They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in ­examinations.”

gfjohnson4@shaw.ca

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.