Yale Reinstates Standardized Testing for Admissions

AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz, File

Earlier this month Dartmouth announced it was bringing back standardized testing after carrying out their own internal research project which found it was very effective at predicting student success at the school.


Now Yale is also bringing standardized testing back, after also having a look at the data for students admitted with and without test scores.

Yale University will again require students to submit standardized test scores when they apply for admission, school officials said Thursday. The change comes after officials found that the scores were the single best predictor of students’ academic performance and that not considering them could be a disadvantage for those who have already faced daunting challenges.

The decision — which includes greater flexibility for applicants by allowing more types of tests — is likely to be closely watched not only by students aspiring to highly selective colleges and agonizing over test scores and other metrics, but also by other universities evaluating their own policies. The change will go into effect for first-year and transfer applicants for fall 2025 admission.

Yale's explanation for the decision is here. This is the key paragraph. Yale found that standardized testing was the best predictor of future grades.

Yale’s research from before and after the pandemic has consistently demonstrated that, among all application components, test scores are the single greatest predictor of a student’s future Yale grades. This is true even after controlling for family income and other demographic variables, and it is true for subject-based exams such as AP and IB, in addition to the ACT and SAT.


That matches up with what Dartmouth's review found and also some outside investigation by Opportunity Insights.

An academic study released last summer by the group Opportunity Insights, covering the so-called Ivy Plus colleges (the eight in the Ivy League, along with Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and the University of Chicago), showed little relationship between high school grade point average and success in college. The researchers found a strong relationship between test scores and later success.

Likewise, a faculty committee at the University of California system — led by Dr. Henry Sánchez, a pathologist, and Eddie Comeaux, a professor of education — concluded in 2020 that test scores were better than high school grades at predicting student success in the system’s nine colleges, where more than 230,000 undergraduates are enrolled. The relative advantage of test scores has grown over time, the committee found.

“Test scores have vastly more predictive power than is commonly understood in the popular debate,” said John Friedman, an economics professor at Brown and one of the authors of the Ivy Plus admissions study.

We have lots of evidence that standardized testing works so why are 80% of schools, including the entire UC system in California, not using them at this point? The answer to that comes down to DEI. Opponents of testing have done a good job convincing schools that the tests are racist in some way. Using the Ibram Kendi view of racism it's not necessary to prove any particular question on the test is biased, you merely have to point to the test results which show an achievement gap exists between Asian and white students and Hispanic and Black students.


FairTest is a group that opposes standardized testing at all levels. Here's what they say about the SAT:

African American, Latino, new Asian immigrant and many other minority test-takers score significantly lower than white students. Rigid use of SATs for admissions will produce freshman classes with very few minorities and with no appreciable gain in academic quality. The SATs are very effective at eliminating academically promising low-income and under-represented minority students who apply with strong academic records but relatively low SAT scores. Colleges that have made the SAT optional report that their applicant pools are more diverse and that there has been no drop off in academic quality.

Again, the conclusions presented by FairTest are opposite to Yale's own investigation which found that the test optional policy actually hurt minority applicants from underprivileged backgrounds.

While evaluating all these applications, our researchers and readers found that when admissions officers reviewed applications with no scores, they placed greater weight on other parts of the application. But this shift frequently worked to the disadvantage of applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

This finding will strike many as counterintuitive. To understand the dynamics, it helps to consider the diversity of high schools our applicants attend.

For students attending well-resourced high schools, substitutes for standardized tests are easy to find: transcripts brim with advanced courses, teachers are accustomed to praising students’ unique classroom contributions, and activities lists are full of enrichment opportunities.

In other high schools, high-achieving students quickly exhaust the available course offerings, leaving only two or three rigorous classes in their senior year schedule. Teachers with large classes may use positive but generic words of praise in recommendation letters. Students’ out-of-school commitments may include activities that demonstrate extraordinary leadership and contributions to family and community but reveal nothing about their academic preparedness. With no test scores to supplement these components, applications from students attending these schools may leave admissions officers with scant evidence of their readiness for Yale.


What Dartmouth, Yale and others have found is that test scores are one of the best ways to identify outstanding students from small or underperforming schools. So by abandoning the tests, schools have actually made it harder for minority students.

Putting that aside, this is clearly a case where the evidence ought to guide the decision. If repeated investigations find that test scores correlate best with student performance then every competitive school ought to be using test scores. But as with everything else, politics are now involved so it actually takes something like bravery in the current environment to announce you are bringing back test scores. Hopefully, Yale's decision will lead other schools to reconsider.

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