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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Carrasco, Abrego and Tilahun: Reinstate the Test-Optional Policy

Dartmouth must take actionable steps in conversation and consultation with BIPOC and a diversity of students when crafting relevant policies affecting underrepresented minorities.

A coalition of Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latiné, first-generation, international, individuals with disabilities and working-class organizations and students on this campus express our dissatisfaction towards the recent repeal of Dartmouth’s test-optional policy and the reinstatement of required standardized testing.

We have learned of at least one closed-door meeting in which a few members of Dartmouth’s NAACP chapter were invited to represent the views of around 200 Black students, who were largely left out of pivotal decision-making processes. Additionally, the reinstatement of the testing requirement did not recognize or effectively involve FGLI student voices or those from other backgrounds. This is unacceptable. A select few of us cannot adequately express the diverse set of experiences, backgrounds and opinions of all of us. We urge the administration to end closed-door meetings and the weaponization of language invoking diversity, equity and inclusion when crafting policy changes without genuine consultation from the diverse groups Dartmouth seeks to recruit, admit and retain. 

In her inaugural speech, College President Sian Leah Beilock said, “The best solutions are developed when a diversity of perspectives are brought to the table.” How does commissioning a study excluding faculty and students of color uphold that statement? Why did President Beilock use faculty in the very institution she oversees for the study, instead of a peer-reviewed research agency or group? How did the research ensure that a preferred outcome and implicit biases did not affect its conclusions? Why did the College not follow in the footsteps of fellow top institutions, such as Columbia University and the University of Chicago, that made their test-optional policies permanent? Was the administration genuine in its decision, or was this another chance to posture as progressive in the national spotlight?

While Dartmouth-sponsored findings suggest “test scores are a better predictor” than high school grades, the insistence on divorcing this evidence from the lived experiences of students advocating for their potential through traditionally qualitative forms of expression — such as essays and teacher recommendations — is unreasonable. In this case, science and research are rhetorical devices distracting our attention from the fact that students were never involved in the decision-making process. 

In regards to the College’s point of SAT scores adding context to an application, there are multiple ways of achieving this. The University of Chicago and Brown University allow students to submit a two-minute video introduction and “non-standard materials and accomplishments as supplements to the application.” In a higher-education institution that “prepares [students] for a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership,” Dartmouth had a choice to lead responsibly and consider other options outside of testing. Alternative options, such as videos and additional supplementary questions, are possible, yet were not the College’s first choices to add context. 

In addition, it is paternalistic for Dartmouth Admissions, administration officials and President Beilock to assume that under a test-optional policy, disadvantaged students are incapable of deciding for themselves whether it is strategic to submit their test scores. The administration’s point that less-advantaged students are not submitting test scores that could push their application over the finish line can coexist with Dartmouth’s previously existing test-optional policy. If Dartmouth finds that less-advantaged students are not submitting test scores, Dartmouth can communicate the importance of submitting such scores. Instead, Dartmouth has made submitting scores mandatory. 

We also do not believe the decision to repeal the test-optional policy has the genuine interests of disadvantaged students in mind, primarily due to the historical origin of standardized testing in eugenics and the financial and logistical barriers that prevent many potential applicants from taking the SAT or ACT. Furthermore, the report cited in the test-optional policy reversal failed to assess the impacts of such a policy on the admissions chances of students with disabilities. BIPOC often face delayed or no diagnoses for mental conditions, including ADHD, that further affect their ability to perform well on exams like the SAT. Given the historical divestment from crucial BIPOC organizations, programming and funding sources, requiring testing also signals to current BIPOC students that the College believes that a diverse class only exists at face value. 

On another note, the administration communicated how international students fit into the conversation around mandatory testing but did not consider the fact that many low-income, international students do not have access to the International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement tests, British A-Levels or an equivalent, standardized, national exam. Those options do not help international students who may financially struggle to acquire testing in the first place. Regarding the SAT, the test can be prohibitively expensive, and a uniform system for fee waivers internationally does not exist. Dartmouth’s reinstatement of the standardized testing requirement means that low-income, international students who cannot access funding and preparation for the SAT should not bother applying. 

Efforts to create an equitable campus post-matriculation have not been at the forefront of Dartmouth’s policies either. The retention and tenure of BIPOC staff and faculty is poor; the ethnic studies departments are underfunded and, as a result, highlight a limited group of identities and scholarships within their courses. The Office for Pluralism and Leadership — a space many minoritized students rely on for support and resources — is chronically understaffed, underfunded and suffers from high turnover. Undocumented students are unsupported, namely facing barriers to flexible employment. Affinity houses like the Shabazz Center and the LALAC House are in disrepair. The Commitment to Care Strategic Plan also failed to mention disability, and the First-Generation Office rarely has visibility within the College’s initiatives, including the recent Commitment to Care Strategic Plan. Dartmouth has also yet to create a Department for Asian American Studies or an Asian American affinity house. 

Recognizing the historical origins and contemporary limitations of the SAT/ACT, Dartmouth should reinstate its test-optional policy. In response to the reinstatement of standardized testing, there has been a rise of racist, classist rhetoric on the anonymous messaging app Fizz; The College must prioritize the well-being and protection of their current students. If the administration truly wants to be equitable and extend SAT access, it must take tangible, actionable steps in conversation and consultation with students to meet our needs. We belong here. Those with our identities belong here in the future. 

Alejandra Carrasco Alayo ’25 is from Lima, Peru, and is co-director of the Latine and Caribbean Council, vice-president of the Dartmouth Peruvian Students Association, a Dartmouth Student Government senator, a member of the International Student Association, a King Scholar and student director at the First-Generation Office. Olvin Abrego Ayala ’25 is the co-president of the Central Americans United Student Association. Hosaena Tilahun ’25 is the Vice-Chair of the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

This opinion piece is based on an open letter released by multiple student organizations on Feb. 8, 2024, and does not reflect the opinions of the original signatories.

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