Why Scrapping Standardized Testing Will Widen the Opportunity Gap between Races

As increasing numbers of universities and colleges announce their decision to scrap ACT or SAT testing requirements for admissions, it brings dismay and trepidation to minority groups such as Asian immigrants. Minorities and disadvantaged groups stand to gain when the rules for advancement are clearly defined, and objective tests can be applied to accurately measure individual ability. What works against them are the nebulous and un-measurable criteria that can be easily manipulated. When subjective yardsticks such as: “leadership skills”, “communication skills”, “teaming ability”, “interview skills” and the like are utilized, they tend to be deployed in a manner so as to prevent access to advancement opportunities for minorities.

To see how subjective measurements such as these are used against minorities, one need to just take a glance at the underrepresentation of minorities up and down the US corporate ladder and boardrooms. Hiring and advancement in corporations rarely uses any objective tests — instead interviews and annual performance reviews measure attributes that are easy to fudge and are impossible to measure in any objective manner. The result is the glaring lack of diversity in senior corporate America.

Contrast this with fair and proportional representation of Asians in academia and hard sciences, or African Americans in athletics and musical arts. Disadvantaged groups intuitively gravitate towards pursuits where there is as little subjectivity as possible, this is because discrimination is harder to justify in areas where clear and objective measures of ability exist.

In disciplines where objective measurements of skill determines outcomes - early entrants enjoy unexpected successes, leading more aspirants from that demographic to pile in, thereby building a momentum that may eventually lead to their overrepresentation. This can be seen in the preponderance of Asians among engineers, university faculty members, IT specialists and other math or science intensive professions.

How high or farther someone can propel a ball can be objectively measured, this makes it difficult for anyone to deny a minority athlete his opportunity. Similarly, a student who places at the 99th percentile on standardized test such as ACT or SAT (or GMAT or LSAT) gets admitted into college programs ahead of others who placed lower. This is how a fair system is supposed to work, and it benefits all those who compete.

When college admissions offices switch from objective measures of achievement such as standardized test scores to subjective measures such as “leadership skills” or “ability to empathize” etc. — they are substituting a fair and equitable process with a subjective process that many in corporate America have long exploited to keep minorities from advancing.

Corporate America also uses informal quotas to add “color” to its management layers, a process that is condescending, unfair and sends a message of powerlessness to minorities. When individuals or groups lose the power to create one’s outcomes in a fair manner, the only levers that is available is obsequiousness and submission to the old boys’ networks. The use of informal quotas and elimination of standardized tests by colleges will lead to excessive concentration of power in the hands of college admissions officers, and create more opportunities for parochialism, favoritism and even corruption.

Great strides in achieving advancement for minorities have occurred in areas where subjectivity is low and objectivity is high — athletics, academia, and hard sciences to name a few. If we seek to truly want minorities to advance, those are the areas that need to examined, and the forces that have created successes there need to be nurtured and transplanted into others.

Level playing field and equal access to opportunity is what our society should collectively strive for. And that is possible only when the rules for advancement are fair and clear, and the criteria used are measurable. Attributes such as “teamwork”, “empathy”, “leadership” etc. are essential for success in most human endeavors; however no group can claim to have a lock on those skills. Until tools for measuring these attributes accurately are available, subjective evaluations will continue to be abused by the establishment to keep the playing field tilted in their favor. Objective tests of ability (such as ACT/SAT) hinder such abuses, and therefore its use should be expanded further, not pruned back.

Plumb existence for insights…hopefully valuable ones. I write on disparate topics; published on Seeking Alpha, Risk Management Journal and few other platforms.