“Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.”
The refusal to yield on its standards may prove to be the single most important institutional decision of MIT since its founding.
The MIT decision stands in stark contrast to the decision of the University of California system. Notably, academics in the California system came to the same conclusion as those at MIT: these tests not only have the greatest predictive value for performance but play an important role in the advancement of minority students. University of California President Janet Napolitano, however, overrode those conclusions.
Napolitano responded to such criticism with a Standardized Testing Task Force in 2019. Many people expected the task force to recommend the cessation of standardized testing. The task force did find that 59 percent of high school graduates were Latino, African-American or Native American but only 37 percent were admitted as UC freshman students. The Task Force did not find standardized testing to be unreliable or call for its abandonment, however.
Instead, its final report concluded that “At UC, test scores are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average (HSGPA), and about as good at predicting first-year retention, [University] GPA, and graduation.”
Not only that, it found: “Further, the amount of variance in student outcomes explained by test scores has increased since 2007 … Test scores are predictive for all demographic groups and disciplines … In fact, test scores are better predictors of success for students who are Underrepresented Minority Students (URMs), who are first generation, or whose families are low-income.” In other words, test scores remain the best indicator for continued performance in college.
That clearly was not the result Napolitano or some others wanted. So, she simply announced a cessation of the use of such scores in admissions. The system will go to a “test-blind” system until or unless it develops its own test.
Ending standardized testing will have a notable impact on legal challenges to the use of race in college admissions. Last November, Californians rejected a resolution to restore affirmative action in college admissions.
Universities will now have to chose between the MIT v. UC models. The pressure on administrators is considerable to make tests optional in the name of equity. Many academics are unwilling to face the personal costs of opposing such changes when they could be portrayed as racist or reactionary.
The choice could not be more impactful for universities. MIT has decided to stand by its institutional commitment to academic excellence. It is a profile of academic courage that has been missing at many institutions of higher education.