The student news site of Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin.

Should the ACT and SAT be swaying factors in college acceptances?

May 23, 2017

Thirty-six. The number students crave, yet fear when they realize its association with tests.

Why are the ACT and SAT necessary?

Will I get into my dream college?

Do these tests reflect what kind of student I really am?

What does it take to get a good score?

The nationwide ACT and SAT tests have been an ongoing stressor on students whose scores do not mirror their grades earned in high school. The controversial question on whether or not these test scores should be a deciding factor for college admission has been and continues to be at the forefront of many discussions.

These tests’ impact on acceptance rates weighs heavily on students in high school, especially. Is this stress necessary? In 2016, “Approximately 78 percent of schools consider standardized test scores to be considerably important but they evaluate them in conjunction with your transcripts,” Peterson’s company staff wrote.

Depending on what schools students are applying to, four-year colleges have been said to consider final ACT and SAT scores more heavily than others. “The National Association for College Admission Counseling found that larger institutions tend to consider test scores more intently, while small exclusive schools are likely to place equal importance on all aspects of your application, including the scores,” Peterson’s staff said.

Straying from the norm, Hampshire College decided to stop accepting ACT/SAT scores in admissions in 2014. Instead, they look at “grade point average (GPA) as a measure of performance over a range of courses and time.” 

“Last year Hampshire College decided not to accept SAT/ACT test scores from high school applicants seeking admission. That got us kicked off the rankings, disqualified us, per U.S. News rankings criteria. That’s OK with us,” Jonathan Lash, President of Hampshire College, wrote.

Their reason for this change focuses on students’ learning outcomes. “Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation,” Lash said.

Hampshire College believes that by accepting ACT and SAT scores, they are failing students. “We fail students if we reduce them to a standardized test number tied more to their financial status than achievement. We fail students by perpetuating the myth that high standardized test scores signal “better” students. We are in the top one percent of colleges nationwide in the percentage of our undergraduate alumni who go on to earn advanced degrees—this on the strength of an education where we assess their capabilities narratively, and where we never, not once, subject them to a numerical or letter grade on a test or course,” Lash noted.

With all this pressure that standardized tests puts on students, will other colleges following Hampshire’s lead? “There are now more than 800 colleges — 195 of them ‘top tier’ schools — that don’t require the SAT or ACT to apply,” Joseph Lamour reported from MTV news in 2015. However, this shows that only 800 colleges out of millions just in the United States alone have made this change.

According to Peterson’s staff, the ACT and SAT limit students’ educational abilities when they are solely judged on their test-taking skills. “Some good students are bad test takers, particularly under stress, such as when a test may grant or deny college entry; Multiple-choice tests don’t reveal much about a student,” Lash mentioned.

Lash also wrote, “If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores.”

“Some people are not good at standardized tests and their scores do not showcase their intelligence. Instead, a GPA is more accurate because it shows how one does in school,” Emily Mayer, senior said.

Students are focusing their energy and hard work towards mastering test-taking skills instead of devoting themselves to gaining knowledge, setting goals and achieving success.

“We surveyed our students and learned not one of them had considered rankings when choosing to apply to colleges; instead they most cared about a college’s mission,” Lash stated.

ACT and SAT testing puts a force on students to become blinded to the various learning opportunities that are offered, because they are pressured to only pay attention to getting into the college of their dreams. This, ultimately, means students feel an obligation to attain a test score that is strong enough to stand out to colleges that that student has their mind set on.

By paying more attention to students’ grades throughout high school rather than their test scores, the likelihood of students attending college will, ultimately, increase.

“The percentage of students who are the first-generation from their family to attend college rose from 12% to 18% in this year’s class,” Lash said.

However, because colleges stopped accepting ACT and SAT scores, their want for submitted essays in their applications rose. Lash claimed, “The quantity of applications went down but the quality went up, likely because we made it harder to apply, asking for more essays; Our applicants collectively were more motivated, mature, disciplined and consistent in their high school years than past applicants.”

Although the amount of work asked by college increased, the overall motivation and grit gained within students creates a more beneficial outcome in the long run.

Even if colleges drop the ACT and SAT, they may still be issues. Instead of dropping it completely, another idea is to make it optional for students to send their scores in – specifically in private schools. “Going SAT optional at private colleges would result in gains (of less than 1 percentage point) in the 81.1 percent of admitted applicants who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class. If colleges were to drop the SAT entirely from consideration, the competitive private colleges studied would end up with declines of about 4 percentage points in the share of their new classes in the top 10 percent,” Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, said.

Jaschik goes on to mention, “For competitive publics, however, either going SAT optional or dropping all consideration of the SAT results in gains in the share of the admitted class from the top 10 percent of high school classes.”

“I would rather have colleges drop it because kids that would choose to send it in if it was optional would have a higher chance of getting in,” Katelyn Meer, senior said.

With or without colleges accepting ACT and SAT testing, the amount of stress, pressure and worry that results from these tests, has, overall, said to overpower and cloud students’ ability to focus on their goals after graduating high school. These tests seem to tell students that learning how to test-take is crucial in order to graduate and attend the college they desire; so, colleges should highly consider dropping the tests or making it optional for students to send in their scores. In reality, the consensus is that students should be concentrating on taking in all that they learned in high school in order to apply their knowledge when taking college courses.

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