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The Griffin Editorial: Standardized tests put to rest

By Patrick Healy

Well, that was dramatic. President Stoute’s announcement that the College’s admissions process would no longer consider standardized test scores starting in fall 2024 surely sent shockwaves through the world of higher education admissions—and stakeholders in the SAT. But more important than Canisius’s potential appearance in the next edition of Higher Education Digest or the damage to the College Board’s billion-dollar bureaucracy are the consequences for high school students and Canisius. Here’s our take on those effects.

Some high school students sure to salivate

First, a focus on the former. Since Covid-19 hit, Canisius has had a test-optional policy, meaning that students can but are not required to submit standardized test scores. The obvious consequence is that students with good scores submit them and students with bad or no scores don’t. So there has probably been at least a portion of applicants who wouldn’t have submitted scores. But the decision to go test-free, rather than test-optional, prevents top test-takers from gaining an advantage with a great score, and it closes the door on any hint that the standardized tests are actually “mandatory optional.” So, it’s a stress reliever for many.

Speaking cynically, there are probably quite a few college-bound high schoolers who are salivating at the chance to skip standardized tests. Barring a similar switch at other local colleges—Canisius’s new policy is unique in local higher ed—Canisius can probably count on a boost in applications, though an obvious concern is that the academic quality of applicants will fall. And that takes us to the crux of the matter: are standardized tests predictive of success in college?

While we are inclined to say yes—we journalist types admittedly gain an advantage via the SAT’s Reading/Writing section —the data apparently say no. We won’t take issue with the months of research put into collecting that information, in part because even if tests like the SAT could 100% measure the skills it purports to—reading, writing, and math—those skills are not nearly 100% of what a student needs to succeed in college and in a career. We particularly point to public speaking.

We have a week to write, for instance, this editorial (that’s not to say we don’t wait until Thursday night, but the point stands). In many fields, employees are expected to be able to answer instantaneously—and verbally. Interviews are conducted the same way. For this reason, Canisius should use this opportunity to prioritize verbal skills. We hope Canisius has a plan to replace the written, standardized tests with more face-to-face (or Zoom) interaction with applicants, both to judge their potential, and to better understand what the average applicant, and thus future student, needs to improve in this regard. -PH

College bets enrollment will saturate

Despite its sudden announcement, the test-free change feels, as Stoute would say, intentional. The president has held his cards close to the vest (or suit, we suppose) about a potential transition to Canisius University and certainly about this change to test-free admissions. Formerly DePaul University’s vice president for strategic initiatives, Stoute played to his former title with Monday’s move. It makes The Griffin wonder if changing to test-free admissions wasn’t something that Stoute used to woo the Trustees in his interviews for the presidency. If so, we can now guess what his bold State of the College enrollment and attendant budgetary assumptions were based on.

Two weeks ago, in response to those assumptions, this column wrote that if President Stoute is “serious about meeting his goal to increase enrollment and balance revenues with expenses by 2027, then he needs to expand his options.” Monday’s matinee message about test-free admissions, released first to local media outlets and then on the College’s social media, certainly expanded his options.

The danger of the change for Canisius seems clear. If other colleges continue to mandate standardized tests, Canisius might attract many of the students who don’t want to challenge themselves while spurning students who feel that standardized tests reflect years of hard work at building linguistic and mathematical skills.

It is true that since making standardized tests optional in the pandemic, Canisius has enrolled objectively its most racially diverse, and subjectively to us at The Griffin very engaged, classes. But this was while top students could still submit their SAT/ACT scores. Blocking these academically advanced applicants from doing so could effectively send them to other schools that do reward standardized tests.

While other local colleges were playing mere checkers with their change to “university” status, Canisius was playing chess with its decision to change to test-free admissions. But Stoute’s gambit will only make him look a grandmaster if the move both A) increases enrollment and B) doesn’t damage the College’s reputation for academic excellence. Otherwise it’ll be a checkmate for Canisius. -PH

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