May 25, 2020

UChicago Did It Right

Other institutions should follow in our footsteps and implement a test-optional admissions policy.

Other institutions should follow in the University of Chicago’s footsteps and implement test-optional admissions for the incoming Class of 2025. The University of California system recently announced that they will no longer require ACT or SAT scores in hopes of developing a more equitable test—a huge step for test-optional advocates. However, UChicago stepped into the game early by dropping the testing requirement for the Class of 2023. When UChicago announced in June 2018 that it would no longer require test scores, the decision sparked criticism, appraisal, and debate among many institutions and current UChicago students. I and several other students in my year were admitted to the Class of 2023 with no test scores.

I usually feel the need to start a conversation about test-optional college admissions by explaining that I do find some value in standardized testing. In fact, had it not been for my experience junior year of high school, I would be among those criticizing UChicago for its test-optional policy. It is easy to assume that a test-optional policy relaxes requirements for those who do not score well, but the reality is that a policy like this excuses circumstances where testing cannot measure what it intends to. In high school, I was diagnosed with two retinal detachments which carried a total of 12 interventional procedures, including two major surgeries, over the course of my whole junior year and part of my senior year. I lost the ability to use my right eye after having a major allergic reaction to the device put in to fix the detachment. As a result, I was physically unable to take my standardized tests. Furthermore, the College Board and ACT refused to give me any sort of help or accommodation, no matter how much information I provided them—this refusal, in my opinion, violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. To emphasize the difficulty of getting testing accommodation, I should point out that I went to a small, private high school, where I had plenty of institutional support, and even I could not convince testing companies. There are many who face similar circumstances and do not have the opportunities I had. Standardized testing does a fantastic job of exacerbating the disparities caused by socioeconomic class in this country.

Some ask me, “Why not just explain to colleges that you couldn’t take tests?” and my answer, in short, is, “Yes, I could have done that.” However, when someone applies to college under normal circumstances, they have choice and control over how they frame their application. Explaining to colleges one of the most traumatic events of my life takes away my choice and defines my application as “the kid with no eyesight.” Furthermore, it is not anyone’s job to explain why their circumstances do not enable them a fair shot on a test. Mine, a medical condition for which I could not get testing accommodations, is the more privileged of circumstances that a test-optional policy would cover. For example, many people do not have the resources to buy books, hire tutors, and study 24/7 for the SAT because they need to make money for their family or face certain conditions where the SAT is, and should be, the least of their problems. This inequity is in large part because standardized testing companies are still private, money-making businesses despite their nonprofit status. The CEO of the College Board, David Coleman, makes $750,000 annually. With a salary like that, making testing more equitable is clearly not his utmost concern. Ultimately, this policy enables students who do not have the opportunity to score highly to be given a chance in holistic admissions processes.A four-year trend in grades, essays, extracurriculars, and personality should ultimately hold more weight than a one-time test, especially for schools who claim to practice holistic admissions. In the era of COVID-19, some students will have the privilege of using their quarantine time to crack out their SAT books, and others will have to worry about how they will earn enough money to get their next meal. This is an unprecedented time for everyone, but it especially exacerbates socioeconomic disparities. UChicago has things to work on, as all schools do, but its test-optional policy is a step toward equality of opportunity. In order to account for the inequality that comes from this unprecedented situation, other schools around the country should take a hint from UChicago, and, for once, be more concerned about students than they are about rankings.Anjali Mirmira is a first-year in the College.