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Rethinking Standardized Testings and Examining Alternatives Approaches to Higher Education Admissions Decisions: From Tests-Driven to Tests-Optional to Opportunity-Driven Admissions Process

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B


The validity of inferences made from test scores is an important topic for the people working in higher education institutions. Test-takers, admissions professionals, and program faculty all wish the test scores could provide an accurate picture of applicants’ potential for academic success. However, according to the National Center for Fair and Opening Testing in 2016, there is an increasing number of colleges and universities in the US have decided to go “test-optional” in undergraduate and graduate admissions over the past decades, letting applicants decide whether or not to submit admissions test scores.

The presentation begins focuses on the use of standardized admission testings both in undergraduate and graduate level in China and the US, describing the history of admission testings in these two countries. The origin of the standardized admission testing in China, named Keju examination, can be traced back to the 7th century. It was discontinued in 1905, and the first Gaokao (College Entrance Examination) took place in 1977. Today, almost all college and universities (except in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) require undergraduate students to demonstrate their academic ability through this test. The scores students earned on the Gaokao are the main requirement for admissions and other criteria are nearly ignored. Chinese students still need to take the GSEE (Graduate Student Entrance Examination) after college graduation, if they want to pursue studies at the graduate level.

The emergence of standardized testings in the US can be traced back to 1899 when representatives of 12 universities and 3 preparatory academic schools met and agreed on “a plan of examination suitable as a test for admission to college,” thus ushering in the era of standardized admission testings. Nowadays, SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) or ACT (American College Testing) score plays an important role in nearly 95% American colleges and universities in determining whether a high school graduate is offered admission (2008).

After teasing out the development of various standardized admission testings in these two countries, the presentation will then move to explore the role played by standardized admission testings in either facilitating or impeding access to higher education among students of different racial/ethnic groups, sexes, and social classes. For example, it is argued that SAT or GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores do not accurately reflect the capabilities of women, students of color, and older applicants. Having to sit for these tests costs students enormous time and money, produce unnecessary anxiety, and diverts attention away from more worthwhile academic pursuits. Similar disputes also have been raised about the Chinese Gaokao.

Furthermore, this presentation will discuss the necessity and fairness of SAT or GRE to international students, given the international students’ enrollment in American higher education institutions has expanded considerably in the last decades. However, applications do not need to take Gaokao exam in order to apply to Chinese universities if your nationality is not China.

Finally, this presentation focuses on alternatives to predict students’ academic success for them with various backgrounds. It explores how we can diversify recruitment strategies and strengthen the collaboration between admissions officers, high school teachers and administrators, and test makers on building an opportunity-driven admissions process. Testing critics believe that emphasizing other factors will lessen the effects of socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, etc., but different measures of student performance, from course grades to extracurricular activities, are just as likely to be influenced by such social background factors. And, other criteria, personal statement, and reference letters may also be biased measures of applicants’ “true” ability or potential to benefit from or succeed in undergraduate or graduate studies .


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