By Amanda Bang
Boston University News Service
Massachusetts Institute of Technology now requires students to submit standardized testing scores — beginning with the class of 2027, the university announced earlier this month.
The standardized testing requirement had been suspended for the past two years as the COVID-19 pandemic caused many educational disruptions.
“Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants,” wrote Stuart Schmill, the dean of admissions and student financial services at MIT, in a public statement.
“These findings are statistically robust and stable over time, and hold when you control for socioeconomic factors and look across demographic groups,” said Schmill in an interview with MIT News.
Harriette Scott, a senior lecturer of educational leadership and policy studies at Boston University, said that she was surprised to see MIT suspend its standardized testing requirement two years ago, and understands why MIT is bringing it back.
“When you think about MIT and its mission, they are looking for the type of person that has an analytical mindset,” she said. “If they define intelligence based on problem-solving paradigms, it makes sense that the standardized tests are a good predictor.”
Scott also mentioned that the timing of the decision to require standardized testing scores again might depend on the university’s view on COVID-19, as there are some schools, such as Harvard University, that are not requiring standardized tests until 2026.
“Some institutions are starting to look at it as endemic,” Scott said. “If these tests were a standard part of who we were prior to covid, then let’s bring them back because we’re resuming full operations.”
Elaine M. Allensworth, director of the University of Chicago Consortium on school research, disagrees that these standardized tests are a good indicator for university admissions at all. She claims that “ACT scores show weak relationships and even negative relationships at the higher achievement levels” in her journal article “High School GPAs and ACT Scores as Predictors of College Completion: Examining Assumptions About Consistency Across High Schools.”
Jeffery Young, a former superintendent of Cambridge public schools and now a professor of practice in education leadership at Columbia University, also thinks more research needs to be done to examine how effective these tests are in indicating students’ success in universities.
“I am not at all convinced that the SAT is the best instrument for doing so,” Young said. “It would be interesting to analyze the outcomes for students who did relatively poorly on the SAT but had other indicators of significant achievement, such as high school grades, teacher recommendations, writing samples. How did those students do in college?”
Bringing back these standardized tests such as the SATs or the ACTs abruptly like how MIT did might take a toll on students’ mental health, Scott said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in April saying that 37.1% of high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. Scott worries if these tests will add a stressor for the students.
“It will cause a level of anxiety if I was not already doing test prep or if I hadn’t taken the junior SAT,” Scott said. “We cannot ignore that there are some social [and] emotional effects from covid and people are already dealing with those and this adds another layer to that.”
Young also said standardized testing requirements will bring “great stress” to the students.
“I am always in favor of giving K to 12 students the benefit of the doubt,” Young said. “Colleges and universities that are implementing the SAT for next year’s admissions might do well to reconsider, given all the disruption students have faced in the past two years.”