The Daily Gamecock

Column: USC's decision to go test optional is positive change for new applicants

USC's decision to have a test-optional application in 2021 should become a permanent fixture because it offers all students the chance to be accepted into universities without the obstacles and bias testing puts forth.

A permanent test-optional application will increase diversity in college. When colleges choose to forego the SAT and ACT, the enrollment of underrepresented groups increases, according to FairTest, The National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

Biases that often appear in testing keep diverse candidates from getting higher scores. Factors such as economic standing and family income keep many students from succeeding on the test and being represented fairly on applications. Test-optional applications help bridge the wealth gap that separates students.

Students should not be measured by a numerical exam system. There are too many mitigating factors that can affect a student's performance. When a student can afford tutoring or prep classes, it can dramatically increase their score. In fact, SAT scores are often correlated with a family's income. According to The Washington Post, in 2014 "students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1,714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1,326.”

Another factor that can affect a student's performance is if they have a learning disability. Other times, it can be as simple as having test anxiety — when students cannot perform well under pressure.  Ten percent to 40% of students suffer from test anxiety. This is a common struggle for students, and one that can't be brushed off.

Being labeled and measured by one score received on one day of testing, which can later determine an important part of your future, is an application factor that must be phased out. This phasing out will make it easier for students to achieve higher education. Holistic applications actually create a more connected university where students feel more valued.

In the past, the University of South Carolina, like many other higher learning institutions, required SAT or ACT scores. Now, test-optional applications are beginning to roll out across universities. Students can show themselves as more than a number or a score. Holistic application reviews have become increasingly popular, especially after instances in which students received unfair treatment.

When the news broke that children of prominent figures, such as Lori Loughlin, could pay to falsify test scores, it caused a major change in how the application process was conducted. Students paid other individuals to take their test for them. Test-optional applications remove the risk of these unfair advantages and lead to a more equal application process. Extracurriculars, general class grades and grade point averages show more about a student's passion and daily life outside of a testing day. They offer more information about students.

The biggest reason this test optional change appeared more often was because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was much harder for students to access standardized testing locations, and adequate study time and preparation was cut short. The pandemic was a breaking point, forcing people to realize what was important and necessary.

It became too difficult to require standardized test-scores in the 2020 year for many colleges and universities. This change should be permanent because more students within minority groups apply at a higher rate when given the opportunity to apply test-optional. This new application process would benefit both students and the university.

The university's decision to have a test-optional 2021 application is a considerable step in the right direction. It should be lasting policy, allowing all students to receive a fair shot at acceptance into the university.

This sets a positive example for other colleges and universities to make the same decision. Within the college decision process, students deserve to be treated as people, rather than numbers. When you view students holistically, rather than numerically, you gain valuable people for your campus.

It gives more students a chance to attend certain institutions that previously were unavailable. It evens a playing field that was, prior to this year, severely raised. This decision was a positive change, and one that should be the stepping stone for other institutions to do the same.