Patterico's Pontifications

3/29/2022

On MIT’s Decision to Bring Back College Board Testing Requirements

Filed under: General — JVW @ 4:39 pm



[guest post by JVW]

From time to time I am called upon to defend the virtue of my alma mater, so here goes.

There seems to be a great deal of chatter about the recently-announced decision from MIT to once again require that all applicants for admission take either the SAT or the ACT exam at least once, after having suspended the requirement for the past two years. Many of those who are generally critical of the incessant wokeness these days in higher education (like me!) are enjoying a triumphant moment of “See! This is what happens when you lower admission standards in the name of diversity!” As you may recall the University of California system spent years trying to junk standardized college board test requirements, and finally got its wish when a judge ruled that making the tests “optional” but still considering them as part of an applicant’s qualification was discriminatory towards those who had lesser access to the tests. The Democrat-appointed Board of Regents for the University of California had already determined that the tests would no longer be required starting in 2023, so the SAT and ACT evaluations are effectively dead for UC applicants.

But this isn’t what happened at MIT. Unlike the UC system, there was no widespread movement among faculty or the administration to junk the college board tests. MIT simply suspended the requirement that applicants submit those test scores starting in the spring of 2020. If I can take you back in time a couple of years, you might recall that was when COVID lockdowns began being implemented and as a result the companies that administer the ACT and SAT cancelled all of their scheduled testing sessions for April and May, which is the optimal time for high school juniors to take those exams (before summer recess when, presumably, the brain atrophies a certain amount). When the companies resumed testing that summer, the sessions — limited in size due to social-distancing requirements and not available in all locations thanks to local COVID restrictions — were highly sought after and plenty of students who wanted to take the test were unable to register in time for a session. Thus, the Institute declared that they would waive the testing requirement for the class of 2025 (the class of 2024 had already been admitted before the lockdowns hit). The next year, when it was time for the prospective class of 2026 to take the exams as high school juniors, COVID regulations in many parts of the country continued to make test registration difficult, especially for students in “underserved” communities, and the Institute extended the waiver for that class as well. Students who were able to take the college board exams were welcome to submit their scores along with their application, but no applicant was required to do so. This was never about the merits of the tests themselves; it was only about whether all applicants had fair access to them.

So now with the pandemic in the rear-view mirror (I am furiously knocking wood right now) it simply makes sense for MIT to once again require them for the prospective class of 2027 who will be applying for admission later this coming fall. One of the most remarkable parts of MIT’s announcement that they would be re-instituting the requirement — one that the anti-woke crowd ought to have been focusing upon rather than making specious claims that MIT had deliberately tried to subvert the SAT and ACT as legitimate screening tools — was the following [bolded emphasis from me]:

To be clear, performance on standardized tests is not the central focus of our holistic admissions process. We do not prefer people with perfect scores; indeed, despite what some people infer from our statistics, we do not consider an applicant’s scores at all beyond the point where preparedness has been established as part of a multifactor analysis. Nor are strong scores themselves sufficient: our research shows students also need to do well in high school and have a strong match for MIT, including the resilience to rebound from its challenges, and the initiative to make use of its resources. That’s why we don’t select students solely on how well they score on the tests, but only consider scores to the extent they help us feel more confident about an applicant’s preparedness⁠ to not just to survive, but thrive, at MIT.

At the same time, standardized tests also help us identify academically prepared, socioeconomically disadvantaged students who could not otherwise demonstrate readiness⁠ because they do not attend schools that offer advanced coursework, cannot afford expensive enrichment opportunities, cannot expect lengthy letters of recommendation from their overburdened teachers, or are otherwise hampered by educational inequalities.⁠ By using the tests as a tool⁠ in the service of our mission, we have helped improve the diversity of our undergraduate population⁠ while student academic outcomes at MIT have gotten better,⁠ too; our strategic and purposeful use of testing has been crucial to doing both simultaneously.⁠

This is such an important point that needs to be understood by people outside of the MIT community: It really isn’t necessarily the student who scores a 1600 on the SAT or a 36 on the ACT whose MIT application benefits from taking those exams. Every year there are students with perfect college board scores who are not offered admission to the Institute, and that was true even back in my day when far fewer students attained perfect scores. The student who truly benefits from having their college board scores included is that student from a lower-performing school district who scores a 1450 on the SAT or a 31 on the ACT (the the median scores for MIT students are 1510 and 34, respectively). This suggests to the admissions office that even though the student might not have access to a top-flight high school curriculum, they appear to have the basic aptitude to withstand the rigors of an MIT education. And finding these students actually increases the number of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds in each admitted class, making MIT one of the most diverse institutions of higher education in the nation and world.

Believe me, there are plenty of instances in which wokeness is creeping into life at MIT, and there is a strong contingent of alumnae and alumni who are pushing back against it. But MIT has not succumbed to the ridiculous anti-testing mania that afflicts the UC system — and for the time being much of the Ivy League — and in fact the Institute sees a strong value in requiring that applicants take these exams as it turns out to be a valuable way for the admissions office to find that “diamond in the rough.” What ought to be of real interest in this story is that MIT is swimming against the trendy academic current in asserting that the tests serve a useful need in predicting a student’s future success in an education strongly geared towards quantitative reasoning, and that college board tests help — not hinder — efforts to maintain a diverse student body.

– JVW

29 Responses to “On MIT’s Decision to Bring Back College Board Testing Requirements”

  1. MIT’s President announced his retirement effective this summer, and the provost took the top job at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, so a number of us are pushing to ensure that the new leadership is far less attuned to the noise coming from the academic wokesphere than the previous leadership was.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  2. Both Mudd and Cal Tech have extended the test-optional period through those entering in 2023. Both have also dropped the requirements (and will not consider) the “subject tests” that they previously asked for (I wonder about this, as I think my 800 on one of those got me in, back in the day).

    Mudd, however, publishes a statistic that disputes that judge’s decision about UC, and makes me wonder if he made tat decision based on evidence, or his own “common sense.”

    “In our first year of being ACT/SAT optional, we were pleased to see that the data supported our assertion that students applying without scores were not at a disadvantage,” Briggs said. “Thirty-eight percent of our applicants, 39% of our admitted students, and 39% of students who enrolled did not have scores.”

    https://www.hmc.edu/about-hmc/2021/10/15/harvey-mudd-extends-test-optional-pilot-through-2023/

    And yes, they do understand statistics at Mudd.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  3. Like MIT, Mudd gets a 0.74 diversity rating from US news (CalTech is 0.70). Gender distribution is 50/50 (no decline-to-state listed). MIT is (men) 52/48 and CalTech is (men) 54/46. When I went to Mudd is was something like 97/3.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  4. The point about disadvantaged students is well taken. Suppose you are an admissions dean and you get an application from a student from Marcus Garvey High in rural Mississippi. 4.0 on a 4-point scale, and two poorly-written but glowing recommendations. No extra-curricular activities, although a lot of work history. Wouldn’t you like to know she got a 1510 on the SAT? Or do you just assume a 1200 and move on?

    Kevin M (38e250)

  5. I think that using SAT scores to evaluate disadvantaged students would be most helpful this way. Let’s say you are an admissions officer at a top-ranked school and you have an applicant from a substandard public school district who says he wants to study engineering in college. But in looking at his transcript, you see that in his junior year his grades in algebra/trig were A- in the first semester and B in the second semester. What you might not know (because he forgets to mention it in his essay) is that during the second semester he had mononucleosis and missed three weeks of school, then a fourth week when his grandmother died.

    And you see that he took Chemistry I and Biology I, but his school didn’t offer Chem II or Bio II and he didn’t take them online or off-campus because he had an afterschool job he had to work. You’re left wondering if he can really handle the rigor of your school, and one thing you don’t want to do to him is have him arrive as a freshmen and flunk out that year without getting any academic credits.

    Wouldn’t it be really helpful for you as an admissions officer to know whether his math SAT is 750 or 570? Just like Kevin M’s example with the kid in Mississippi. I guess the UC system doesn’t think so; they’ll just steer him into a sociology major.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  6. And when the college board exams are left out of the equation, imagine how much pressure there is going to be on a teacher at that really high-performing public high school to bump up the Honors Oceanography grade of that young lady who is applying to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Penn from a B+ to an A- or even an A. If grades become the sole metric by which to evaluate students, you can expect a great deal of grade inflation as school districts aspire to get their kids into elite schools.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  7. Gender distribution is 50/50 (no decline-to-state listed). MIT is (men) 52/48 and CalTech is (men) 54/46. When I went to Mudd is was something like 97/3.

    My freshman year the MIT senior class (1989) was split something like 77/23 along male/female lines. My class (1992) was pretty much 67/33. By my senior year, the incoming class the next year (1996) was announced as 55/45 or thereabouts. So they made massive strides that quickly. They keep aspiring to a 50/50 ratio, but after coming near that in the early 2000s they regressed back to 55/45 for several years. Sounds like they are inching their way back.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  8. I was kind of in this case, in a reverse way.

    When I applied, I was graduating from an excellent school in an excellent district (Newport Harbor High) with a parking lot full of sports cars. Kind of like Neptune High in Veronica Mars.

    So, by themselves my pretty-good-but-not-valedictorian grades and general lack of extracurricular activities would have counted against me (not so bad as today, but still). Expectations would have been high. But I had to work after school, because living in that place was expensive, so I didn’t have time for that stuff.

    But I had the test scores and some scholarship money…

    Kevin M (38e250)

  9. A business partner of mine went to Tech in the 60’s when it was men only by rule.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  10. By no means was I MIT material (though I did reach for Stanford), but I was able to overcome some dreadfully freshman year HS grades by obtaining a 30 in the April 1990 version of the ACT with 2 subscores getting me out of the freshman English (Rhetoric) requirement at Champaign. I actually started practice testing with an SAT booklet in 8th grade. Side note…my 5 in the AP Euro history exam was the result of my Uncle finding a Men and Nations textbook in the park across the street back when I was 7 years old.

    urbanleftbehind (b15190)

  11. you can expect a great deal of grade inflation as school districts aspire to get their kids into elite schools

    More to the point, there is no test to call bullspit on that.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  12. More to the point, there is no test to call bullspit on that.

    Kevin M (38e250) — 3/29/2022 @ 7:32 pm

    At this point, it’s probably irrelevant. The decades-long effort to push every student in to college and “make everyone an elite” has resulted in around half of all college freshmen needing some form of remedial instruction because they can’t read or do math at even an 8th-grade level.

    Colleges actually need to be MORE selective and reduce their overall admissions to people who can cut the academic mustard, but the relentless effort to turn every high school graduate into a white-collar professional and expect new immigrants to pick up the blue-collar slack has led us to this point.

    Factory Working Orphan (2775f0)

  13. Side note…my 5 in the AP Euro history exam was the result of my Uncle finding a Men and Nations textbook in the park across the street back when I was 7 years old.

    urbanleftbehind (b15190) — 3/29/2022 @ 7:31 pm

    I switched high schools halfway through and had to retake AP US History at my new school because I left in the middle of the year. My teacher at the original school used an highly detailed textbook from around 1982 that was FAR superior to the “American Pageant” text that’s used for that class to to this day. An indication of far advanced the former texbook was over “AP” was that the latter was used for the basic US History course there.

    I wish I could remember the name and author of that older textbook so my kids could use it once they hit high school.

    Factory Working Orphan (2775f0)

  14. I agree, FWO. Not everybody takes to letters. Not even smart people. They may do well academically because they’re smart, but like the verger in the de Maupassant story they would be as, or more, successful without the waste of four years of their youth and energy.

    nk (1d9030)

  15. nk (1d9030) — 3/29/2022 @ 8:05 pm

    I’m actually a proponent of high school graduates taking a “gap year” or four and doing something akin to real, actual work during that time rather than more schooling. College at all but the most stringent universities now is basically 13th-16th grade; a few years away from the classroom would not only give these kids some real life experience during a period when their emotional maturity is still in development, that experience might also provide an effective experiential counter in some cases to the neomarxist evangelicalism of a lot of the professors, particularly in the humanities.

    I know I probably would have benefitted a great deal from working for a while as a park ranger picking up trash, or apprenticing for a while with an HVAC company, rather than starting college right out of the gate at 18. Most of the real academic learning I had didn’t really begin until I entered grad school, anyway, although I did have a few undergrad profs that I enjoyed.

    Factory Working Orphan (2775f0)

  16. I am ambivalent. Mostly because our secondary, university, graduate system is a wreck and so testing or no testing or optional testing is a small drop in a bucket of messiness. But also because that thing y’all love about school choice? It is a system where school merit is based on graduation rates, test scores and percentage of students who attend 4 yr universities immediately after HS.

    Nic (896fdf)

  17. I’m actually a proponent of high school graduates taking a “gap year” or four and doing something akin to real, actual work during that time rather than more schooling.

    If I had to do it all over again I would have enlisted for a two-year hitch in the navy as soon as I finished high school and deferred my college enrollment until I was 20 and far more mature and ready for life on my own. I have often told this to young men who are 17 or 18 and contemplating what to do going forward, but as far as I know none of them have ever been inspired by my retroactive wisdom to take my advice.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  18. Side note…my 5 in the AP Euro history exam was the result of my Uncle finding a Men and Nations textbook in the park across the street back when I was 7 years old.

    I suspect I would not have done as well on the Chemistry board test if it wasn’t that my high school chemistry teacher has written the standard textbook for the state.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  19. If I had to do it all over again I would have enlisted for a two-year hitch in the navy as soon as I finished high school and deferred my college enrollment until I was 20 and far more mature and ready for life on my own

    I might have, too, except it was 1972 and Vietnam was not the cool place to be.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  20. Mostly because our secondary, university, graduate system is a wreck

    One of the problems that elite schools have in recruiting inner-city students is that many of those that might have qualified have been damaged by inferior schools and poor living situations. I think a long-term strategy has to include merit-based private high schools in the inner-city, with healthy scholarship endowments.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  21. The SAT/ACT do show the ability to navigate high-pressure, timed exams….and those do tend to show up in college courses….and later with the GRE/MCAT/LSAT/FE. Do they reveal students who are in top prep programs? Probably. Do they “miss” bright kids from bad schools? Also true. But you can take these exams multiple times, there’s lots of test prep materials and courses available, and in the end, there are a lot of good colleges available to those that have so-so results. Exams like this do measure some aggregate preparation for “advanced” study…however it was attained….genes, hard work, money. They also identify people who will be at a disadvantage, competing against others who know more words and, likely, critically think and solve faster. People can and do catch up….while other high-scorers fade because of other factors. I’m in favor of keeping the bar high. They seem to raise the seriousness level and focus attention. They’re good wakeup calls…and good practice for future high-pressure tests like the MCAT or LSAT. With grade inflation in HS, I would think they would be another useful metric.

    AJ_Liberty (3cb02f)

  22. If I had to do it all over again I would have enlisted for a two-year hitch in the navy as soon as I finished high school and deferred my college enrollment until I was 20 and far more mature and ready for life on my own. I have often told this to young men who are 17 or 18 and contemplating what to do going forward, but as far as I know none of them have ever been inspired by my retroactive wisdom to take my advice.

    JVW (ee64e4) — 3/29/2022 @ 9:47 pm

    That’s close to what I did. One of the best decisions I ever made, though it was mostly borne of necessity. Started college when stationed overseas just because my buddy insisted I come along with him (this was before online schools). Knocked out a year’s worth of classes with CLEP tests. More importantly, I straightened out a lot as far as work ethic and dealing with stressful situations goes, had a few adventures.

    Drives me nuts when folks demand loan forgiveness.

    Dustin (150498)

  23. Adam Smith:

    The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters.

    True then, true today.

    Jim Miller (406a93)

  24. 13. Factory Working Orphan (2775f0) — 3/29/2022 @ 8:03 pm

    …My teacher at the original school used an highly detailed textbook from around 1982 that was FAR superior to the “American Pageant” text that’s used for that class to to this day….I wish I could remember the name and author of that older textbook so my kids could use it once they hit high school.

    Do you remember the name of the teacher, or any other teacher? Maybe they can be found online.

    Also maybe someone else who attended that class remembers something. Even someone who attended the school could help you track it down. Perhaps contact the school.

    If you remember a stray sentence or two, maybe Google books.

    If there are only a few possible textbooks maybe someone at a library of a teacher’s college might give you some possibilities, and if you heard it, you might remember the name.

    Sammy Finkelman (c04aa1)

  25. Kevin M (38e250) — 3/30/2022 @ 12:16 am

    I think a long-term strategy has to include merit-based private high schools in the inner-city, with healthy scholarship endowments.

    The Biden Administration, or Democrats in Congress, have a plan to make it difficult to start new charter schools.

    https://nypost.com/2022/03/28/the-biden-administration-declares-war-on-charter-schools

    The established charter school networks will be able to roll with the punches, but it will be hard to get started in new places.

    They left a very short time for comment and apparently want to favor charter schools that have the consent of the local public school district.

    Sammy Finkelman (c04aa1)

  26. Drives me nuts when folks demand loan forgiveness.

    Carter’s “load forgiveness” program in the later 70’s was to run double digit inflation to make my principle (at 3%) diminish rapidly.

    Kevin M (38e250)

  27. * loaN forgiveness

    Kevin M (38e250)

  28. If I had to do it all over again I would have enlisted for a two-year hitch in the navy as soon as I finished high school and deferred my college enrollment until I was 20 and far more mature and ready for life on my own.

    Being in the military can be a positive experience, but it’s definitely not for everyone. I actually waited until my late 20s to enlist because I didn’t think I was prepared for that type of social environment right out of high school. Even at that, I did my four and got out. A buddy of mine, on the other hand, signed up for the Navy after our freshman year of college solely because they offered him a massive signing bonus, and he went on to become an officer.

    Drives me nuts when folks demand loan forgiveness.

    The fact that progressives have been demanding a debt jubilee for student loans, to me, is both a sign of massive entitlement, and a tacit admission that college has gotten so expensive that it’s no longer providing a good return on investment. And this is after years of data analysis showing that people with college degrees make more money during their career than those without.

    Sammy Finkelman (c04aa1) — 3/30/2022 @ 9:14 am

    Keep in mind, this was 30 years ago, so any memories of specific passages or the author are long gone. I have done internet searches for textbooks published in that time, but nothing has rung a bell, and the teacher I had at that school retired sometime after Y2K.

    Carter’s “load forgiveness” program in the later 70’s was to run double digit inflation to make my principle (at 3%) diminish rapidly.

    Kevin M (38e250) — 3/30/2022 @ 7:37 pm

    Pretty remarkable how our elites seem determined to conduct a speed run of that entire decade.

    Factory Working Orphan (2775f0)


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