New York Times Op-Ed: Can meritocracy survive without the SAT?By Ross Douthat:
The rapid abandonment of the SAT and ACT as college admission requirements, to the point where more than 80 percent of four-year colleges did not require a standardized test for admission next fall, is a milestone in the history of modern meritocracy. What remains to be seen is whether it is a marker on the road to the demise of meritocracy.
From the beginning, the meritocratic culture and standardized testing have been inextricably linked. intertwined. The transformation of America’s elite universities in the mid-20th century from upper-class graduate schools to modern “multiversities” supposedly open to all comers was fueled and justified by the SAT, which was supposed to provide a means of equal opportunities to ascend and legitimize the new elite with numerical evidence of their intellectual capacity.
Longtime skeptics of meritocracy, left and good, have pointed out that the new system created an upper class that seems as privileged and insular as the old one. And according to some of the SAT criticsIt is precisely this criticism that is motivating the current move away from standardized tests: the idea that they are inherently biased towards children from wealthy families and that a more holistic definition of merit will open up more opportunities for the deserving poor and middle class.
There are reasons to doubt this account.
First, it seems quite clear that many schools are really dropping out of the SAT in response to the following sequence of events: Asian-American SAT scores rose to the point where elite colleges were accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants in order to maintain the racial balance they desired, this led to lawsuits, and those lawsuits appear to be poised to produce a Supreme Judgment against affirmative action. Thus, universities are preemptively abandoning a metric that could be used against them in future litigation, not for the sake of expanding opportunity, but only in the hope of maintaining the admissions status quo.
Second, while SAT scores are tied to household income, the link is not so tight as critics sometimes suggest, and standardized tests are probably a less class-bound metric than many things that go into more “holistic” assessments. …
[We may end up with] an elite school population that is more privileged and less academically competitive; and a larger population of smart kids from non-elite backgrounds who simply aren’t recruited into the system anymore.
This combination could be good for the United States in the long run, fostering a greater regional dispersion of talent, breaking the stagnation of meritocracy versus populismweakening the influence of the Ivy League.
But it would spell the death of meritocracy as we’ve known it, and the old orders don’t seldom go down without a fight.