Hampshire is ‘test-blind’: Here’s Why It’s Good for Women and People of Color

by Gwen Berumen

800 four-year colleges and universities are “test-optional” meaning that submitting SAT or ACT tests as part of the application is not a requirement. However, students applying to more selective schools will almost always submit, and these schools will almost always look at the scores to influence their admissions decision.

Last week, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA announced that it will now implement a “test-blind” policy. It will no longer even look at tests to determine admission or financial aid decisions. This is a similar to concept to “need-blind” admission, where how much a student’s family makes is not taken into consideration for admissions decisions.

Hampshire was one of the first colleges to become “test-optional”, but after deciding that it contradicted “Hampshire’s mission and academic approach” to “fairness in access to educational opportunity.”

Meredith Twombly, Dean of Admissions at Hampshire, released a statement regarding this:

The tests more accurately reflect family economic status than potential for college success. That standardized testing can pose racial, class, gender, and cultural barriers to equal opportunity is now widely understood, and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists more than 800 colleges and universities that are SAT and ACT optional.

Fairness in access is particularly important at Hampshire, a college with a reputation for social justice concerns and a mission that includes inspiring students “to contribute to knowledge, justice, and positive change in the world.”

“It is no secret that many colleges base financial aid awards largely or partly on test scores. Financial aid should be used to support students who most need assistance, not to reward those who are good test takers,” Twombly said.

The only other time that a college has been “test-blind” was in the case of Sarah Lawrence College – where, in 2005, they too decided to go “test-blind” for similar reasons. However, two years ago, they implemented a conventional test submission policy due to how it affected their rankings with U.S. News and World Report.

In an open letter by the (then) President of Sarah Lawrence, Michele Tolela Myers expressed her concerns with the ranking system in general, and how much parents and prospective students rely on a list that is very flawed. When Sarah Lawrence first implemented a “test-blind” policy in 2005, they say that their appearance on the U.S. News site was tainted, since…  

…this principled decision has put us in jeopardy. I was recently informed by the director of data research at U.S. News, the person at the magazine who has a lot to say about how the rankings are computed, that absent students’ SAT scores, the magazine will calculate the college’s ranking by assuming an arbitrary average SAT score of one standard deviation (roughly 200 points) below the average score of our peer group.

In other words, in the absence of real data, they will make up a number. He made clear to me that he believes that schools that do not use SAT scores in their admission process are admitting less capable students and therefore should lose points on their selectivity index. Our experience, of course, tells us otherwise.

According to the letter, Sarah Lawrence was doing fine without looking at test scores in the admissions process! However, choosing to withdraw from the U.S. News ranking system is dangerous since many prospective students and parents look to it for guidance on the college application process. And if a college doesn’t submit data, U.S. News will make it up. In the letter by the Sarah Lawrence president, she says the following:

Unless we are willing to be badly misrepresented, we had better send the information the magazine wants. We haven’t yet decided what we will do. But if we don’t go along, we understand we will be harmed because many students will assume that Sarah Lawrence is much less selective than it actually is.

The perception of how “selective” your college is determines a lot in this process. This is probably due to the fact that selectivity seems to be synonymous with worth, and colleges are a business, after all. Numbers matter.

The problem here is that these rankings depend on a test that – as Hampshire put it – is biased towards certain groups of individuals. Not only is it heavily in favor of families with a large income rolling in, it’s also in favor of men and white people overall.

A 1989 study by Phyllis Rosser, declares that men did a lot better than women when it came to SAT questions on more “masculine” topics. This was revealed because women originally did better in the verbal and writing sections of the SAT. However, “ETS researcher Carol Dwyer’s 1976 report[s]that… female’s superior performance on the Verbal section upset the ETC policy makers, so they added questions about “masculine” subjects of politics, business and sports so males would feel more confident answering the questions. The “masculine” questions increased the males’ scores so much that they scored higher than females on the Verbal section for the first time in the history of the SAT.”

While this may seem a bit gendered in and of itself, it is cause to assume that the SAT would change their questions based on gender biases.

Additionally, thanks to systemic imbalances, white people do better than people of color on the SAT (with the exception of certain Asian-American groups).  

Holding a test with embedded inequality to the standard to which it is held in the college application process is counterproductive and blatantly harmful to a large majority of students. The reformation of the admissions process can fundamentally change the dynamics of an institution. Until we see this on a widespread scale, I applaud Hampshire for being the first (and only) competitive college in the country that won’t look at test scores. I am sure that many students will be able to get into (and do fantastic) at their dream school now that an extra barrier that they have little control over is removed.

If this trend continues, then many marginalized individuals who already have barriers to education will be able to apply to colleges of their choice without fear of being rejected on face due to their “low” SAT scores.


Photos via imfirst.org, economix.blogs.nytimes.com, and aei-ideas.org. 

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