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What Could a New Admissions Test Bring?

Inside Higher Ed

Last week's vote by the University of California Board of Regents was largely viewed as a defeat for supporters of the SAT and ACT. But it was also something else.

Regents voted to establish a new admissions test within five years. If they don't, UC will cease to use standardized tests in admissions. As UC officials admitted, not much is known about the new test, although the California State University system has expressed interest in using it, and other colleges could as well.

Inside Higher Ed asked experts to weigh in on the new test. What could it bring to college admissions? What feature would they most like to see in a new test?

Johann Neem, professor of history, Western Washington University, and author of What’s the Point of College? Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform (Johns Hopkins University Press)

The history of the SAT -- as laid out in Nicholas Lemann’s book The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy -- is about unintended consequences. In the mid-20th century, testing advocates hoped that the SAT would create a Jeffersonian meritocracy. Thomas Jefferson believed that intelligence and virtue were distributed throughout the population. He hoped public schools would, as he put it, rake the best students “from the rubbish annually.” Given that universities were bastions of white elite privilege, SAT advocates argued that standardized tests would open universities up to all deserving Americans. And it, combined with the GI Bill and public tax dollars, transformed higher education as first-generation and minority students entered in large numbers.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 1:22pm