A Brief and Not So Tragic History of Falling Empires: The Crumbling Relevance of the SAT and ACT

We all know what eventually happens to even the strongest of empires. Total collapse.

The causes and results of dissolution vary by degree and chronology: a wildly unstable economy, wayward leadership, invasion by barbarians, disunity and dissent from within, and of course my favorite--abject failure to evolve. Once enough of these unrelenting forces work their magic, it’s only a matter of time. Like erosion.

There are two warring empires currently under threat of annihilation: the SAT and ACT.

Can either assessment evolve in time to remain relevant in our quasi-vaccinated world, when students may be expected to once again sit in shared air and do battle against those blunt instruments of standardized testing?

The brave infidels of the test optional movement at FairTest are busily recruiting and converting more barbarians among their ranks. While test sites continue to face pandemic-induced closures and cancellations, a legion of over 1600 colleges and universities are proudly flying the test optional flag.

This once fringe movement is now powerfully mainstream because their mission suddenly resonates with the masses:

“The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) advances quality education and equal opportunity by promoting fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools. FairTest also works to end the misuses and flaws of testing practices that impede those goals.”

It’s a war for equity, and the SAT and ACT are getting trounced.

Naysayers will claim our most prestigious and selective schools will ultimately slink back to the SAT and ACT as soon as it’s safe for our kids to sit together again. No doubt many well-endowed, private schools will feel the pressure of trustees and well-heeled benefactors to do so.

And we still don’t have another viable, standardized assessment tool that passes today’s sniff test for diversity, equity and inclusion. But we’re not nose blind anymore. Now that they’re gone, we finally recognize how badly both tests stink.

Imagine what happens when the incoming, “untested” classes at the Ivies and everywhere else perform just as well (if not better) than did their test-scarred predecessors? Because all the admissions folks will have the data to prove what, deep down, we all already know:

We can overfill all of our great schools with a diverse and deserving pool of brilliant and fabulous kids without standardized testing. Ah, the delightful disruption of it all!

Let’s not forget the leaders of the UC system had already called for a battering ram to splinter the holy gates of both test empires long before the latest lawsuit or the coronavirus arrived with the leveling power of plague. After years of study, the Board of Regents unanimously voted to deal both exams a death blow in California.

History belongs to all of us. We can even share a few more words together in the hush between tests.

But enough exultation! What are the parents of sophomores and juniors supposed to do while we wait for falling empires to return to dust and new ones to rise?

Do we study for what may or may not be required, when we don’t even know where our kids are applying? We’ve all had more than enough uncertainty. Here comes some more--nobody really knows.

That’s why there is only one good answer: now more than ever, test prep plans should always depend on the individual student. A customized approach and timeline must rule the day.

If it makes them feel better and more empowered, kids can and should prep now. We are proudly preparing many students with essential skills that transcend any given test iteration. Hurrah for reading comprehension, vocabulary development and timed writing skills! Bring on the applied logic and problem solving. Wherever they may go, test prep students will take whatever they learn with them. And who dares say they’re not in favor of stamina and metacognitive strategies?

Students can also wait without the dread of “falling behind,” if that feels good. Because for once, there isn’t one right way to do this test prep thing (in fact there never was). We can all study differently and everyone can still be right. (So the answer is D: All the Above).

Let’s lean into this bizarre state of shared limbo by granting ourselves permission to coexist with the inherently unknowable. Our students deserve that and so do we. Perhaps that’s what 2020 was all about. And while we’ve already bid that most terrible of years good riddance, it did teach us how to live with change and uncertainty--at least when we have no other choice.

~Matthew Hayutin, M. Ed

Founder & Partner, Hayutin & Associates

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