Changing the game of standardized tests

It has been said that you’re judged by the company you keep. If that’s the case, then Harvard should feel pretty good about itself after being mentioned alongside Lawrence University in two New York Times articles that have appeared in the past week, both about the importance–or overimportance–of standardized tests in the college admission process. The first one, “College Panel Calls for Less Focus on SATs,” ran Monday, September 22:

A commission convened by some of the country’s most influential college admission officials is recommending that colleges and universities move away from their reliance on SAT and ACT scores and shift toward admissions exams more closely tied to the high school curriculum and achievement… Read more.

Lawrence University’s dean of admissions and financial aid, Steve Syverson, served along with Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, William Fitzsimmons, who chaired the commission. The commission has concluded something that Lawrence has known for years: standardized tests are not the best predictor of academic performance in college. (That’s why Lawrence gives students the option to choose whether they wish to have the university consider their test results in its admission review.)

Apparently there are a lot of people that feel the same way Lawrence does. At a session in Seattle at last week’s national conference for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (that’s a mouthful), Steve Syverson and the rest of the testing commission presented their findings to an enthusiastic (and fire-marshal-maddening) crowd. The New York Times followed up their September 22 article with another one that ran September 29, this time covering the conference.

For the 5,500 college admissions officials and high school guidance counselors who gathered here over the weekend, there were discussions, debates and analyses of things like the ethics of tracking student applicants on Facebook and “Why Good Students Write Bad College Essays — and How to Stop It… But for this crowd, at the Seattle convention center for the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the main event was William R. Fitzsimmons’s first public presentation of the findings of the Study of the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission… The line formed early for Mr. Fitzsimmons’s panel, and with more than 1,000 people jockeying for a limited number of seats — a scene that brought to mind the college admissions process — the event was moved to the ballroom. Read more.

Whether students choose to submit their tests to Lawrence or not, the admissions office knows that there is far more to students than standardized test performance. Student achievements and aspirations are far more important–and are the things should be spending their energy on.

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