Opinion: Georgia colleges should toss SAT/ACT requirement for good

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

In a guest column, Nicholas Barry Creel, an assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University, urges Georgia to permanently eliminate a requirement that public college applicants provide ACT or SAT scores for admission.

In September, the University System of Georgia announced it would extend a temporary test score waiver at 24 of its 26 institutions for 2023-2024. The college admissions exams will only be required at Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia.

By Nicholas Barry Creel

There have been calls, including by higher education philanthropist and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for colleges to bring back testing requirements for admissions. As a college educator, I cannot agree with this view.

It is widely known in academia that the SAT and ACT were always poor barometers by which to judge a student’s potential relative to a student’s high school GPA. These standardized tests were usually telling us little more than who had parents that could afford expensive preparation programs, thereby leaving us no better informed about who would actually thrive in our classrooms and stacking the deck in favor of those from wealthy families.

These standardized exams were sustained for decades by historical inertia and the fact everyone else was still requiring them, with nobody wanting to be the first to let them go for fear of being unfairly penalized in reputation.

To now call for their reinstatement after some 80% of universities have finally jettisoned them from their admissions process would a huge step backward; it would do next to nothing to help raise standards at our universities and it would bring back what we know to be a discriminatory policy.

Bloomberg and others contend the recent declines in scores on the ACT and SAT are evidence students have lesser ability or even poorer preparation for college. The fact is, with so few schools requiring testing now, the incentive for students to perform well on standardized tests has been greatly diminished. This in and of itself should lead us to expect scores on these tests to drop. After all, why would students intensely prepare for an exam that no longer matters to the vast majority of colleges they want to apply to?

Anecdotally, I would nevertheless agree with Bloomberg’s contention that students who were in high school when the COVID-19 pandemic hit are less prepared than their predecessors were. Even so, it is the job of an educator to meet their students where they are, not where you wish they were.

Students still in primary and secondary school will rely on their educators to coach them up, while those who have since graduated from high school will rely on their college professors to do the same. This hard work on our part is the sort of bold intervention Bloomberg calls for that will lead to student success, not antiquated testing requirements.

The University System of Georgia has given all its schools except Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia the ability to forgo standardized testing requirements for the next year, but this remains a temporary waiver applying only to the 2023-2024 admission cycle. It is my sincere hope USG resists the arguments of Bloomberg and those of a similar mind and instead moves to make this policy permanent in the near future.

If we do not, we not only will bring back a barrier that makes racial equity in higher education more difficult to attain, but we can also expect to see more of our high school students go out of state for college, risking a brain drain that could do untold economic damage to Georgia over time.