Notes on “the war on tests”

Wenyuan Wu:

The Test-Free Movement in a Historical Context

Forces within, from slavery to school segregations under Jim Crow laws to race-based admissions, have tried to corrupt the grand proposal of equality and merit. Like previous illiberal bargains to categorize students by race, the central focus of test-free admissions is also preoccupied with immutable features of the individual, under the fashionable banner of social identities, rather than observable academic performance. But unlike historical race-based practices that were rooted in bigotry and racism, arbiters of “equitable” college admissions in the modern era claim they are waging battles against the evil spirits of white supremacy, systemic inequities, and structural racism.

The movement away from merit-based considerations started with the holistic evaluation model, in which academic, nonacademic, and environmental factors are compounded to build a full profile of the applicant. Harvard invented the model nearly a century ago to limit Jewish enrollment. But even with capturing unmeasurable factors for holistic evaluations, the racial composition of student bodies at selective U.S. colleges and universities was still not squarely reflective of America’s general demographics.

Many thus have turned to race-based affirmative action to artificially drum up the admission numbers of the so-called underrepresented minority students (URMs). Applicants with statistically significant academic gaps are lumped into the same freshman classes. Yet again, this soft experiment of race-conscious admissions fell short of achieving the goal of racial diversity. In spite of the broad-spectrum implementation of race-based affirmation action, the share of URMs at elite institutions has decreased since 1980.

Getting Rid of the Tests in the Name of Equity