Top colleges think they have a problem. Many Asian American students are applying with impressive credentials: notable extracurriculars, 4.0s, and high standardized test scores — with Asians scoring in the 78th percentile of the ACT on average. But many of these colleges don’t want a student body with a large proportion of Asian American students. That is, they’re prejudiced against Asian students.
Colleges solve this “problem” by rejecting Asian American students at a level that is not consonant with their achievements.
Lawsuits filed against Harvard and Yale universities have called out these discriminatory practices and have revealed the huge discrepancy in admissions rates between Asian American students and students of other races who have the same standardized test scores and GPAs.
Consider how Yale University treats its Asian American applicants. In the top decile of academic achievement among Yale applicants, which is a combined measure of GPA and standardized test scores, Asians had a 14 percent acceptance rate in 2017 and 2018. On the other hand, 60 percent of African American students, 35 percent of Latino students, and 20 percent of white students in this decile were accepted.
Without this standardized measure of academic performance, college admissions officers will be freer to give greater weight to an applicant’s race and personal narrative. They also won’t leave a paper trail of doing so. Admissions officers can reject academically qualified Asian American applicants on the basis of their race, and no one will know.
This year, more than 1,500 universities are not requiring students to submit SAT or ACT scores, a decision made because of the disruption of COVID-19. But many of those universities, including all of the Ivy League schools, have extended these policies into next year even though standardized testing has returned to its regular schedule. In the case of the ACT, only the April 2020 test was canceled, and students signed up for that test were automatically rescheduled to take the exam later. Both the SAT and the ACT have also now implemented remote testing.
Many colleges and universities have justified their decision to not require standardized testing on the basis of equity, rather than simply coronavirus-related issues.
The University of California system has announced that it will eliminate standardized testing from its admissions process altogether. The University of California Board of Regents chair, John A. Pérez, said the decision was “an incredible step in the right direction toward aligning our admissions policy with the broad-based values of the University.”
Other colleges had moved to eliminate standardized testing even before the onset of COVID-19. Trinity College in Connecticut, for instance, dropped the testing requirement in 2015, saying that academic achievement is “only one part of a student’s complex story.”
Alongside these decisions for admissions to become test-optional are greater accusations that standardized testing discriminates against African American, Latino, and Native American students.
In October 2020, critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi said, “Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black and Brown minds and legally exclude their bodies from prestigious schools.”
“We still think there’s something wrong with the kids,” he said, “rather than recognizing there’s something wrong with the tests.”
But the reality is that standardized tests are the best predictor of a student’s success in college.
In 2018, the chair of the Academic Council at the University of California system created a Standardized Testing Task Force to assess the use of standardized admissions tests in the university’s admissions process. The 228-page report, which was released in February 2020, shows that standardized tests are the best predictor of a student’s first-year success, retention, and graduation.
Further, the report found that the value of standardized tests for predicting college success has actually increased since 2007 because grade inflation has lessened the predictive ability of a GPA.
The report noted that grade inflation is most pronounced in wealthy high schools. In this way, the enrollment of minority students could actually decline if these students are not given the opportunity to demonstrate academic achievement relative to students who attend wealthier schools with grade inflation.
Many other studies have also shown the value of standardized testing for predicting success.
A 2007 study published in the journal Science reviewed hundreds of thousands of students’ academic records and found that graduate school admissions tests predict grades, research accomplishments, graduation, and final exam performance.
A study published in 2008 in Psychological Science showed that students who scored in the top 1 percent at the age of 13 on average went on to be highly successful in their careers.
And research has shown that the opposite is true with application essays and interviews. These forms of assessment have been found to be highly ineffective at predicting future success.
One 2009 meta-analysis found that personal statements have “small predictive relationships” with college grades and faculty evaluations. And a whole wealth of research has shown that interviews are poor predictors and may in fact be harmful for selecting the best applicants.
Yet colleges are increasingly rejecting standardized testing and turning instead towards these tools, turning admissions into a hazy and nebulous process centered on admission officers’ biases and preferences.
Many who believe that standardized tests are discriminatory assert that standardized testing gives the wealthy an advantage because they can afford to hire tutors for exam preparation.
But gains due to test preparation are actually small. Research has shown that test preparation on average raises a student’s score by 15 to 20 points on the math section of the SAT and 8 to 10 points on the verbal section. The SAT score range is 400 to 1600, with an average score of 1050. In addition, the SAT offers its official test preparation free on the internet through Khan Academy, and it encourages all students to prepare for the exam.
Conversely, wealthy students have a huge advantage when it comes to the “soft factors” of a college application. Their parents can pay for desirable extracurricular activities like rugby, rowing, or fencing, and they can afford to hire consultants to write their child’s admission essays.
And yet college administrators want to eliminate or lessen the weight of standardized tests and increase the value of these “soft factors.”
Colleges know that if they judge students fairly on the basis of academic achievement and potential for success, they will end up with many Asian American students — which they don’t want. So instead, administrators turn admissions into this hazy process where they can select students from their preferred racial groups and reject students from racial groups they are prejudiced against, namely Asian Americans.
This is evident in how Harvard University discriminates against Asian American students. According to Students for Fair Admissions’ lawsuit against Harvard, which has been referred to the Supreme Court, Harvard admissions officers gave Asian American students lower personality scores than students of other races. They would often justify these lower personality scores on the basis of Asian stereotypes, such as writing that Asian American students were quiet and shy.
In recent weeks, the media and the Biden administration have been voicing concerns about anti-Asian American discrimination following the Atlanta shooting on March 16, noting that hate crimes against Asian Americans spiked 150 percent in 16 of the U.S.’s most populous cities in 2020.
On March 19, a CNN article was titled “We asked Asian Americans about their experiences with hate. The responses were heartbreaking.” Another article, from PBS on March 18, was titled “What you can do to fight violence and racism against Asian Americans.”
But where is the outcry against the discrimination of Asian American young people in college admissions?
This same sort of discrimination has happened before, when many Ivy League universities imposed quota systems that restricted Jewish students. These policies have universally been acknowledged as discriminatory by conservatives and liberals alike.
But when it comes to Asian Americans, this same discrimination is somehow considered okay. These unfair admissions practices are in fact one of the central means of discrimination against Asian Americans. Eliminating standardized testing requirements will only make this discrimination worse.
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