Should Independent School Admissions Be Test Optional? Here’s A Strong Argument | 11 Min Read

By Patrick F. Bassett, President (retired), NAIS, and Sanje Ratnavale, President, OESIS Network, Inc.

The inevitable conflict between exclusivity and equity came to the fore in a recent movement of Northern California independent schools to adopt a “test-optional” policy in admitting students into middle and secondary school. The issue is in sharp focus at the college admissions level, led in a burgeoning movement by colleges such as the University of Chicago and the UC system which have dropped requiring the SAT or ACT score submissions.

Let us look at five reasons why the time might be right for schools to consider that option in the independent school sector:

This research should be a powerful incentive to favor, in the name of socio-economic justice, lower socio-economic applicants who evidence over-achievement since evidence of academic “grit” and success in overcoming socio-economic disadvantage augers well for candidates in school, college, and life.

  1. Implicit Bias: The use of test scores by schools, specifically by teachers and admission officers, carries great dangers of implicit bias. Often, we have heard in our schools a teacher who makes some version of the following complaint to a principal or admission officer: “I don’t understand why this student was admitted ­— this kid is drowning in my Algebra I class.” The response usually goes something like this, “Let’s look at the student’s file. Ah, I see this student had weak math scores but was a… (fill in the blank: a student of color, an athletic admit, or a legacy).” That response should not necessarily have a “but” because those kids may have attributes that make them “high value” in other important ways, and whose low scores could be mitigated by high growth potential, good advising, after-class help, and strong motivation. Unfortunately, there is little understanding of how stanines should be used to analyze growth potential; in particular, the relationship of a Quantitative Reasoning score to a Math Assessment, or a Verbal Reasoning score to a Reading Comprehension score. The scores are basically simplified and analyzed like letter grades: a nine and an eight equal an A, or a one and a four equal a C. The relationship of reasoning scores to the other scores is important in that the reasoning scores are generally measures of IQ or ability, essentially problem-solving skills that are less content or curriculum dependent. If there is a stanine difference of two or more (which is statistically significant), the differential in scores shows overperformance…
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Sanje Ratnavale

Sanje founded OESIS in 2012 and serves as the President of what has grown to become the leading network for innovation at independent schools: the acronym OESIS grew from the initial focus on Online Education Strategies for Independent Schools. He has held senior administrative positions at independent schools including Associate Head of School at a K-12 school for seven years, High School Principal for three years, and CFO for seven years. Prior to making a switch to education, Sanje spent 15 years in venture capital, investment banking, and senior C-level (CEO, COO, CFO) management. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford University (B.A. and M.A. in Law/Jurisprudence). Sanje is based out of Santa Monica.