Do college entrance exams still have a role in deciding who gets admitted to college? A court in California may answer the question. A group of students, parents, school districts and education advocates have filed a lawsuit against the vast University of California system, alleging that ACT and SAT scores discriminate.
Inequalities exist throughout the American educational system from preschool on up — advantaging some students while disadvantaging others. Students who can prepare, pay for and retake college entrance exams have an inherent advantage. Research shows a correlation between social and financial affluence and the rise in both ACT and SAT scores.
The outcome of the lawsuit against the UC System could have a far-reaching impact nationally on college admissions. Inevitably, the lawsuit leads to the question: Do entrance exam scores still have a legitimate place in higher education?
From a practical perspective, test scores can provide some insights. They represent a quick way to get a glimpse into how prepared a student might be for the academic rigors of college. Historically, test scores were a form of democratizing college acceptance in a world where often only the wealthiest could buy their way into college entrance. Sadly, as evidenced in the most recent college admissions scandal, that practice is not completely outdated today.
Ultimately, student success should be the primary focus of higher education. Many large universities, Oklahoma State University included, have an office of first-year success dedicated to helping new students thrive in a variety of areas, both academically and personally. Test scores provide one of several predictors of whether a first-year student might require extra support. A high ACT score also can determine if a student might qualify for an advanced or honors curriculum. A high score could demonstrate a special aptitude for engineering or physics, for example.
In addition to academic performance, we cannot overlook the importance of student engagement — finding a place to connect with a community — as a contributor to student success. In today’s screen-oriented, social media-crazed world, a student’s ability to connect interpersonally with peers, professors and future employers will also influence potential achievement.
By no means is an ACT or SAT score the only measure of a student’s abilities to flourish. Increasingly, we find that resiliency, “soft skills” and work ethic contribute greatly to a student’s academic performance, none of which are measured by a standardized test score. The ACT doesn’t measure the motivation and commitment college requires. Desire, will, and a boot-strap mentality — values we embrace in Oklahoma — play a big role, too, and for which no measurement tool exists.
Land-grant universities such as OSU are founded upon the premise of education for all, by providing a community where every student has the opportunity to succeed. Service through instruction and research is paramount to the land-grant mission. Access is key. We provide the resources to help students achieve their goals whether they scored an 18 or 34.
Colleges and universities must identify sound, reasonable and fair admissions criteria in addition to standardized test scores. Students want the opportunity to attend a comprehensive research university and we need to create pathways, not speed bumps. Nothing can impact the future prosperity of our state more than increasing the number of college graduates in Oklahoma.
Kyle Wray is vice president of enrollment and brand management at Oklahoma State University.