Letter to the Editor: Don’t sacrifice students to keep standardized testing
Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All letters to the editor are fact-checked and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.
On April 21, the Thresher reported on a Student Association resolution urging Rice to suspend standardized testing requirements for applicants who will matriculate in 2021. The resolution passed the SA Senate with near-unanimous support on April 29, the same day that the National Association for College Admission Counseling released a statement urging its members to “reassess their admission criteria,” especially standardized testing. Both the resolution and the NACAC statement cite existing educational inequities, which include unequal access to the internet and college-preparatory curriculum. These inequities have only been magnified by COVID-19-related hardships, and fall disproportionately on the marginalized students on whom Rice depends to fulfill its mission of “cultivating a diverse community.”
At the time the Thresher article was written, more than two dozen schools, including Amherst College, Pomona College, Tufts University and all University of California campuses, had already suspended testing requirements for 2020-21 applicants in light of COVID-19. The day after the article was published, Cornell University did the same. Several schools, including the University of Oregon, will remain test-optional permanently. 40% of four-year colleges and universities in the United States are already test-optional or test-flexible, with some having implemented test-optional policies as early as 2004. Rice is lagging behind these peer institutions’ implementation of equitable admissions processes.
Vice President for Enrollment Yvonne Romero da Silva makes statements in the Thresher article that do not reflect the reality of standardized testing or the obstacles marginalized students have been facing even before COVID-19. She draws on disproven talking points in support of standardized testing, such as the idea that standardized tests can serve as an equalizing force for students who come from underserved backgrounds. Many of these claims had been countered by the sources provided in the SA resolution.
She concedes COVID-19 “might be an impact [on] future Rice students’ ability to submit admission requirements,” but to qualify her statement with “might” ignores the effects of COVID-19 which can already be seen. Students face eviction, domestic abuse and lack of access to disability services, mental health treatment and academic support. The uncertain extent of long-term consequences is all the more reason for immediate relief. In suspending their testing requirements for 2020-21 applicants, the Cornell Office of Admissions stated, “We can’t pre-define in absolute, comprehensive terms what economic or personal disruptions will look like. We don’t plan to require any students to justify their reasons for not submitting test results.”
In the article, SA President Anna Margaret Clyburn is quoted saying, “especially for international students, students in rural areas or students in areas highly affected by COVID-19, it's far more likely that they will be unable to take their ACT or SAT, which renders a portion of our applicants unable to successfully apply to Rice.” Romero da Silva responds, “the College Board offers fee waivers for qualifying students, and that there is a plethora of free online resources available for students to use to prepare,” placing the onus of responsibility on students, including some who have been denied the chance to even take the tests at all due to cancellations. Moreover, fee waivers and free online resources, such as Khan Academy, have failed to close racial or economic gaps in either test results or educational outcomes.
An overwhelming body of literature continues to reveal persistent, undeniable inequities which have always existed in standardized testing. In the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss writes, “Research has consistently shown that ACT and SAT scores are strongly linked to family income, the education level of the test-taker’s mother, and race,” trends which are corroborated by the College Board and ACT’s own data. In fact, gaps in scores across demographics widened in 2019 despite assurances from the College Board and ACT that they are working to close them. Finally, standardized tests have proven to be invalid, unreliable, and a poor predictor of success in college.
Romero da Silva claims testing requirements allow Rice to recruit from programs such as QuestBridge. Romero da Silva is quoted saying, “‘[Standardized testing] has been a tool we have been able to use to identify students with great promise and talent, where in their environments they may not have all of the competitions and research opportunities.’” However, schools like the University of Chicago, which has been fully test-optional since 2018, continue to be QuestBridge college partners, and there is no reason to believe a test-optional policy will preclude Rice from doing the same.
Test-optional schools are more inclusive. In 2018, NACAC released a multi-year study of 955,774 applicants from 28 four-year colleges and universities with test-optional policies. They reported that “a [test-optional policy] works well at a variety of institutions… Almost all institutions in our study increased enrollment of underserved populations, with many showing proportionate increases exceeding those found at test-requiring peer institutions.”
If anything, Rice will reap significant benefits by suspending testing requirements. Test-optional schools attract more diverse applicants, lower acceptance rates and accept more underrepresented minorities, factors which heavily affect the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. A three-year study of colleges released in 2014 found only “trivial” differences in GPA and graduation rates between students who submitted standardized test results and those who didn’t.
A test-optional policy is a tangible step towards more equitable admissions. For now, the SA resolution seeks temporary relief: a suspension of standardized testing requirements for 2020-21 applicants, who will continue to face unimaginable threats to their lives, their loved ones, and their futures. Rice has the responsibility and opportunity to make a statement that above all, it will protect and uphold the most vulnerable members of its community. On Thursday, we will join student leaders and other stakeholders to discuss testing requirements with the Office of Admissions. We urge the Rice community to contact Romero da Silva and other members of the Rice administration to discuss this issue. Help us hold administrators accountable to the values which will encourage 2020-21 applicants to choose Rice.
Anna Margaret Clyburn is a Martel College junior and the current SA President. Grace Wickerson is a Brown College senior and former SA President. Daniel Koh is a Jones College senior and former Jones College SA Senator.
More from The Rice Thresher
The words “free speech” will likely elicit groans from Thresher readers. Over the last three years, there have been three articles in the Opinion section bemoaning the need for a “classically liberal” political discourse at Rice. Unfortunately, between their self-righteousness and needless wordiness, they read more like whiny lectures than conversation starters. However, despite their condescension, their existence does suggest something unsettling about not just our campus politics, but politics at large. As the electorates of democracies around the world have become more sharply divided, the way we speak to each other, not just across the aisle but to our similarly minded partisans, has become more accusatory, exclusionary and violent. Put simply: we do not want to talk to each other, and understandably so. It is exhausting, and, more than that, we just don’t seem to know how to.
For the first time since 2019, Rice is not allowing undergraduate students to remain in their on-campus housing during winter break. While this is a disappointing development, we understand why this decision needed to be made. Like students, staff need a break after a long semester. Further, keeping students on campus by providing housing over break was originally implemented to address pandemic travel restrictions, which are mostly gone. However, the need for winter housing is not gone. This decision still leaves some international students — or any other on-campus student looking to remain in Houston — scrambling for housing.
For the past year, I have served as an at-large representative on the Rice Honor Council. I have sat through dozens of cases, read hundreds of pages of evidence and spent countless hours working to improve the transparency and fairness of the Honor System. While there are a myriad of issues with the Honor System, as there are with any institutional system, there is one in particular that needs to be addressed with expediency. The Honor Council is currently not an effective deliberative body due to the general lack of engagement from some of its members, which include elected representatives.