The University of Michigan’s use of standardized testing for admissions decisions into its undergraduate and graduate level programs is nothing new. Butnow it’s time to revisit the practice.
The problems with standardized testing are numerous and well known. By many accounts, standardized tests do not predict future success nor do they measure the student’s overall body of work. Similarly, they are culturally biased and seem to benefit only select groups, especially companies who sell test preparation materials like the Princeton Review, people who charge exorbitant amounts of money to prepare their students for standardized tests and people who work in admissions departments but don’t want to take the time to properly evaluate students.
Implicit in the use of standardized testing is the creation of a glass ceiling for those students who don’t do well on these sorts of tests. Although it is common to note this problem for high school applicants applying to college, the same problem exists within higher education institutions as well. For example, students interested in programs like the University’s masters in social work program do not have their test scores considered for admissions decisions. But those students pursuing the doctoral counterpart in applied social science do have their test scores taken into account. This allows students, many of them people of color and female, to gain some level of higher education but does not provide them with the opportunity to achieve the highest level, a doctorate degree.
It is time for the University as an innovative and elite institution to begin considering alternative methods for admitting both undergraduate and graduate level students. On the surface, the University can say that it already uses standardized testing only for admissions. But it is obvious that the effects of using standardized testing even at one level translates into immense changes across all levels of higher education.
It is especially important for the University to consider this change after the passage of Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning affirmative action in admissions decisions. The university must be proactive with its thinking about diversity and social justice. Many people would point to the University’s diverse administrators, including University President Mary Sue Coleman – its first female president – as examples of the school’s commitment to cultural diversity and equality. But this is exactly the point. As a university community, shouldn’t we begin working on social justice in our own backyard while concurrently advocating policy change on a larger scale?
Instead of only pointing the finger at unfair policies, we should be researching alternatives like admissions portfolios, which provide a more comprehensive view of a student. The University, or the state of Michigan, could also provide subsidized funding to high school students and undergraduate students that would enable them to afford expensive test preparation courses.
We must begin looking to the future of education here in Ann Arbor in order to continue our long legacy of fair and just education for everyone.
Shane Brady is a graduate student in the School of Social Work.