IF ADMISSION TESTS AREN’T FAIR, NEITHER IS LIFE

December 7, 2021

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In recent years, I’ve seen a troubling trend toward protecting kids from unfairness and anything that might make them feel bad. I applaud the sentiment — we all want a just and happy world  — but I worry that we’re creating unrealistic expectations in our kids. Eventually, reality comes crashing in.

Coddling has been growing for years. Youth sports leagues handing out trophies just for participation, “zero tolerance” policies on bullying making adults responsible for micro-managing children’s’ social interactions, etc. In a newer development, some elite universities, including a very famous one near me, will no longer require admissions tests. Where does it end? Shall we get rid of grades too?

My oldest son just graduated from high school and I have more kids that will be starting the college admissions rat race soon enough. I’m familiar with the stress of this process, and I know it’s not entirely fair. SAT scores are not the measure of a child’s achievement, or her potential. Tests are a flawed tool, but getting rid of them is not the same as offering a solution.

The fact is, we need objective standards to help us make good decisions. Without a common measuring stick, we have no way to know if we’re performing well, or if we’re lagging behind and we need a change of course. We all tend to rate our personal judgement too highly, so real data is valuable. For all their flaws, admissions tests offer a clear standard.

Out in the world, there’s always a bottom line. Making a sale, closing a deal, getting hired for a job, earning a profit, all of these are objective outcomes that our kids needs to be ready to pursue. Nobody is going to ensure that their competition plays nice or plays fair. That’s not how the world works, and it’s up to us to adjust to reality. That’s why objective standards are so important.

There are a heck of a lot of colleges in the US, and there’s room for differentiation. Some schools might de-emphasize testing when selecting their students, but top institutions should be wary about substituting more human judgement in place of objective data. Getting rid of test scores might actually make admissions even more arbitrary than they already are.

We can never forget that the world isn’t fair and luck governs much of what we do in life. Rather than shelter our kids, we should be preparing them for reality. The world judges us all, and sometimes that hurts. But if we can roll with the punches, there’s always another opportunity.

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