Standardized tests pose issues but inequalities go deeper, say students, faculty
Beyond the Score, a student organization, held a town hall Feb. 20 to discuss the drawbacks of using standardized testing in college admissions and to campaign for the removal of standardized testing as an admissions factor. (Metztli Garcia/Daily Bruin)
March 5, 2019 11:59 p.m.
Eliminating standardized testing from the college admissions process may not make the process more fair for students from historically underrepresented socioeconomic classes, UCLA students and faculty said.
Beyond the Score, a student organization, held a town hall Feb. 20 to discuss the drawbacks of using standardized testing in college admissions. Members of the organization are campaigning to remove standardized testing as an admissions factor because they believe it selects against certain groups of applicants based on their socioeconomic status.
Patricia Gandara, a professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and co-director of The Civil Rights Project, said standardized test scores are strongly and positively correlated with the test-takers’ socioeconomic status.
“If you come from a high-income family, you have a much greater chance of scoring well on these than you do if you come from a low-income family,” Gandara said. “And that is socially unjust.”
However, Gandara said she thinks people should directly address the issue of socioeconomic inequality, and simply eliminating standardized testing will not resolve the deeper roots of the issue.
“We are a very unequal society and are becoming more unequal every day,” Gandara said. “We need to make society more equal so that we don’t have to rely on measures that simply highlight the inequalities that exist.”
Janet Song, external president of Bruin Initiative and a fourth-year biochemistry student, said she thinks standardized testing is a complex issue and removing it from the admissions process entirely may not solve the problem. Bruin Initiative is a volunteer organization that aims to help students from underrepresented backgrounds pursue higher education.
“If you remove standardized testing, it creates a whole other set of issues,” Song said. “So I don’t know if the solution is necessarily to completely get rid of it.”
However, Gandara said many colleges are going test-optional because of the established correlation between standardized testing and socioeconomic status, as well as research that shows standardized testing does not strongly predict students’ ability to succeed in higher education.
“There are some colleges for whom this is a real social justice issue,” Gandara said. “I think admissions officers at most colleges tend to be the ones who worry the most about the social justice aspect.”
Gandara said making standardized tests optional can increase the number of applicants a school receives, which can improve the school’s overall ranking.
“If you get more applicants, you have a higher rejection rate,” Gandara said. “And a higher rejection rate helps you in your U.S. News & World Report ranking.”
Standardized testing was originally created to facilitate a fairer, merit-based admissions process, she said.
“Without any test, kids who were getting accepted were oftentimes kids who came from families who could contribute to the school or were legacy,” Gandara said. “There was actually an impulse to be more socially just.”
Programs such as Bruin Initiative and the Law Fellows Program have made test preparatory materials more available to students to reduce the achievement gap created by socioeconomic factors.
Rob Schwartz, assistant dean of admissions in the UCLA School of Law, said in an email statement the Law Fellows Program aims to provide historically underserved and underrepresented students with additional resources for testing.
“UCLA Law’s award-winning Law Fellows Program, a pipeline program for underrepresented students interested in law school, offers participants free LSAT prep courses,” Schwartz said.
Song said Bruin Initiative works to provide underserved but high-achieving high school students with free SAT tutoring and college essay review.
“By doing so, we are trying to ensure that getting a good SAT score is accessible to everybody, rather than to just those who can afford the expensive tutoring,” Song said.