Op-ed: Top colleges need to look at more than standardized tests

Published May 2, 2014 5:37 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ten minutes left. Thirty math problems to go. Twenty seconds per problem. I tried not to let myself panic. The gravity of the test—its implications for my future—kept surfacing. Five minutes left. What is an irrational number again? Do I use the quadratic equation for this? Is sine hypotenuse over opposite or is that tangent? Time's up. As I got up to leave, I turned in my scantron, said goodbye to the proctor and to quite possibly my hopes and dreams.

Fast-forward three years, I find myself graduating with a sociology degree and Women's Studies minor a year early with an A- average. All without remembering the quadratic formula.

Does this mean I am some late-bloomer smarty pants? Absolutely not. What it does mean though is that the ACT was wrong about me. While I'm sure BYU was relieved about that, a much bigger issue comes into the picture: these standardized tests are not the reliable success predictors colleges assume they are. And not just for me, but for hopeful students all around the country.

This wouldn't pose much of a problem if standardized college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT weren't weighted so heavily. But after reading the incoming freshman statistics at Ivy League schools, the evidence speaks for itself. The majority of Yale University's incoming freshman, for example, score between a 32-35 on the ACT, scores that only students in the 97th percentile get. Dartmouth's average is at a 32, and Columbia has an identical track record.

What the ACT and SAT are trying to do is predict how well high school kids can perform in college. These tests fail to do this, but it isn't an impossible goal. And one way that seems so painfully obvious may be the pathway by which kids get to the Ivy Leagues schools they dream about: community college. Making more room for transfer students in big-name schools gives schools the advantage because they do not have to take such a high risk — these students have college track records to draw from. It also allows for students (like me) who sweat at the thought of a couple hours with a ticking clock and a number two pencil to have a chance at quality higher education, even if it isn't right out of high school. Colleges need to give kids a second chance.

The only way to get into Princeton is directly out of high school — " … if you have already started a college or university degree program elsewhere, you are not eligible to apply for admission to Princeton." But other schools such as Arizona State University and the University of Texas accepted more than 7,000 transfer students in Fall 2012, and have continued to thrive academically.

But for the selective colleges that distrust the community college system (I'm looking at you, Princeton), there is another solution. If universities decided to make a visiting student program for newly graduated high school seniors as a trial period, colleges would get the reassurance they need. In the case that students didn't perform up to par, they would not be admitted as a full-time students.

I was admitted to college despite my less than impressive ACT score. But what about the thousands of kids that weren't so lucky? What are we missing out on by not admitting these kids? If colleges are serious about wanting students that will make an impact and succeed in the real world, standardized tests need to say have a say in the admissions decision, just not the final one.

Cassie Southworth is a graduate of Brigham Young University in sociology.