MIT Reinstates Standardized Testing Requirements for Admissions

“the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that it would reinstate its SAT/ACT test requirement for applicants. In a departure from the trends set by other elite universities, MIT rolled back its admissions policy, implemented in the 2020–2021 admissions cycle, which made standardized test scores optional. Administrators cited key issues with “holistic” admissions standards, an increasingly popular method of equitably distributing open spots to students regardless of how well they perform on standardized tests.

In a statement explaining the decision, MIT Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services Stu Schmill noted that MIT’s “research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.”

Without an objective measure like a standardized test, low-income students—who may not have equal access to other pieces of the holistic pie, such as a plethora of Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes or numerous extracurriculars—have a harder time proving that they are academically prepared for an MIT education. A move that was intended to increase diversity and help low-income students, as it turns out, mostly helps low-scoring wealthy students—and makes it harder to identify talented yet underprivileged applicants.

MIT now distinguishes itself from other elite universities, a spate of which have removed their SAT and ACT requirements in recent years, primarily citing COVID-19 and diversity-related justifications for the policy change.

The original logic of such policies is based on the idea that SAT and ACT scores correlate strongly with income, which suggests that students from poorer households are denied admission to competitive schools solely because they can’t afford to ace the SATs.

However, omitting standardized test scores makes all applicants reliant on application materials that correlate even more highly with income, such as admissions essays. A 2021 Stanford study found that essays are actually more strongly correlated with household income than SAT scores. Thus, by omitting one income-correlated metric, one that is even more closely related to income takes prominence.

While wealthy parents can pay for test prep, they can’t take a standardized test for their children (well, almost never). However, with essay coaches and college counselors at their disposal, many wealthy students’ college essays can be manicured to fit exactly what schools are looking for.”

The hidden lesson in the new free Covid-19 tests

“There are a few ways to think about these bureaucratic struggles. One, coined by Annie Lowrey in a 2021 Atlantic feature, is the “time tax” — the amount of time and energy that people waste interacting with the government. But my preferred term, popularized by the academics Donald Moynihan, Pamela Herd, and Hope Harvey is “administrative burden” — which refers not only to the concrete loss of time and money, but to the cognitive and psychological burdens of having to learn and comply with government rules.

It’s hard to say just how much administrative burden there is. There’s no attempt to synthesize information about it even at the federal level, let alone the state and local governments that are responsible for implementing most safety-net programs. The best way to understand it is to look at all the labor involved to access a specific program: unemployment benefits in North Carolina, for example.

The one overarching truth is that administrative burdens particularly harm people already marginalized because they’re most in need of assistance and because they’re most likely to have difficulty jumping through all the hoops. Maybe they don’t have a computer, maybe they don’t speak English or understand legalese, or maybe they have to forgo shifts at work just to go to the right office to submit a form.

By extension, any restriction on who is eligible for benefits increases administrative burden, not only for people who apply and are found ineligible but also those who have to do more work to prove eligibility in the first place. The Covid-19 test webpage could be easy because there were no restrictions; it didn’t need to ask about anything besides your address.

There’s also a second-order way that making programs universal fights administrative burden: When politically empowered, privileged Americans are inconvenienced by something, they’re more likely to make noise and get it to change.

But there is little if any political incentive to reduce the burden on people who politicians don’t typically listen to or need to court, such as noncitizens or people disenfranchised due to criminal records.”

If Harvard Cared About Equality, It Would Abolish Legacy Admissions, Not ACT and SAT Requirements

“Harvard University has decided to extend its pandemic policy of making SAT and ACT scores optional for applicants until at least 2026, which means standardized test scores won’t play much of a role in admissions decisions for years to come, if ever again at all.

Harvard cited the pandemic as the reason for the extension, but the broader push to abolish the ACT and SAT in college admissions is grounded in a misguided idea that the tests are unfair to underprivileged teenagers. The University of California system, for instance, has moved to stop requiring the exams due to concerns that they disfavored black and Hispanic applicants.”

“As Freddie de Boer, author of The Cult of Smart, has argued very persuasively, some combination of grade point average and SAT/ACT scores is highly predictive of success in college. And it’s simply not true that prioritizing test scores punishes racial minorities more than alternative admissions standards. On the contrary, the more that schools rely on non-academic criteria such as extracurricular activities and legacy status, the more they reward applicants who are wealthy and well-connected. A gifted but impoverished Latino teen who is the first in his family to finish high school has a better shot in a system that cares about his SAT score than in a system that cares if his parents paid for clarinet lessons and secured him a spot on the water polo team.”

“If institutions like Harvard really cared about being fair to the unprivileged, they’d take a machete to legacy admissions: a special boost to applicants who are the scions of previous graduates.”

“The most prestigious educational institution in the country should take the brightest students, and standardized tests are a better metric for that than the alternatives on offer.”

Why the Hell Has the FDA Not Approved Cheap Rapid COVID-19 Self-Tests Yet?

“a bin of at-home rapid Flowflex COVID-19 tests for sale for about $3.50 apiece at a supermarket in the Netherlands. The test is manufactured by a company headquartered in the U.S., but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for sale here. In the bin below the Flowflex test, you’ll see another COVID-19 self-test offered by Roche. You can buy it in the Netherlands for about $5.90 per test. It too is not approved by the FDA.”

“From the beginning of the pandemic 20 months ago, hypercautious federal bureaucrats have massively bungled COVID-19 diagnostic testing. Way back in March 2020, I argued that the FDA should get out of the way of rapid at-home COVID-19 testing. Instead, the agency prevented private companies and academic labs from developing and deploying any COVID-19 tests. It especially took its sweet time approving at-home diagnostic tests. The first real at-home COVID-19 wasn’t finally approved until mid-December.”

“If cheap rapid COVID-19 self-tests are good enough for Europeans, surely they are good enough for Americans.”

Why the Hell Don’t We Have Enough Damned COVID-19 Tests After 8 Months of the Pandemic?

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were understandably few tests available for detecting coronavirus infections. But the federal government made the situation much worse by screwing up the development and deployment of testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention botched its own COVID-19 test while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blocked the development of alternatives by private companies and universities. Months later, the United States still does not have enough tests.

The good news is that the FDA has since approved more than a couple hundred COVID-19 tests. But these tests are not available on the scale needed to stem the tide of infections by enabling Americans to test themselves, warn friends and family if they test positive, and then voluntarily isolate themselves to prevent the further transmission of the disease.”

“Operation Warp Speed was successful at scaling up vaccine production in part because the federal government issued around $18 billion in contracts to their makers. Had the government similarly prioritized COVID-19 testing, the country would not now be piddling around with just 1.5 million tests per day. The Trump administration contracted in late August with Abbott Laboratories to purchase 150 million of its point-of-care BinaxNOW COVID-19 tests for $750 million. The tests, which take about 15 minutes to provide a result, began shipping to state public health agencies at the end of September.

That’s a start, but much more testing needs to be done. Instead of using tests primarily to diagnose COVID-19 cases, they should be used as part of disease surveillance approach in which every American can test themselves frequently.”

Health Bureaucrats Botched the Response to Coronavirus. Trump Made It Even Worse.

“The single most important failure of the U.S. response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has been the slow rollout of testing. This was an abject failure of bureaucracy. But it was also a failure of presidential leadership.
The countries that have had the most success in containing the outbreak, such as South Korea and Singapore, have done so through early, rapid, and widespread testing and contact tracing, followed by targeted quarantines. South Korea and the United States discovered initial cases of the coronavirus on the same day in January. Since then, some 290,000 people in South Korea have been tested and new daily cases have fallen from 909 to just 93. Despite a much larger population, the United States, tested just 60,000 people in the same period of time.”

“Much of the failure to make mass testing available lies with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a Wall Street Journal report makes clear, the CDC, which managed the development of the initial test kits, botched the job in just about every possible way: The CDC not only produced a faulty test that had to be retracted but adopted narrow testing criteria that meant many people with symptoms simply couldn’t be tested.

Perhaps most disastrously, as The Washington Post reports, federal health agencies initially declined to certify tests produced by private companies that were better suited for rapid mass testing anyway. This is despite the fact that experts, including the former head of the FDA, were publicly recommending that they do so as early as February 2.

The CDC was following its usual protocols, developing initial diagnostic tests on its own in order to maintain quality control, as it usually does. But that’s exactly the problem.”

“But this was also a failure of political leadership, most notably from President Donald Trump. For weeks, Trump and senior White House officials actively downplayed the threat of the virus.

As late as February 25, National Economic Council adviser Larry Kudlow was offering assurances that the coronavirus was “contained” and that it was “pretty close to airtight.” Trump treated the virus with similar breeziness, suggesting that the virus was “going to disappear” and that while it might get worse, “nobody really knows.””

“The problem here is obvious: Trump, who as the head of the executive branch oversees federal agencies such as the FDA, did not view the virus as a serious problem—and did not want others to view it that way either. That, in turn, translated into a downstream lack of urgency, which meant that critical aspects of the response were not prioritized. According to The Wall Street Journal, health officials who have examined the testing calamity have concluded that it was a result of both bureaucratic bumbling and a “broader failure of imagination,” in which Trump and other administration officials “appeared unable or unwilling to envision a crisis of the scale that has now emerged.”

The job of a president is to make decisions, set priorities, and convey clear information to both the public and the staff of the executive branch. This is especially important in a moment of crisis, when the executive is in charge of acting both quickly and with sound judgment. In this outbreak, Trump has failed on every count. Not only did he fail to see the threat even when it was apparent to experts, but he actively undermined preparedness by downplaying its significance far long after the problem was apparent, and by providing false and misleading information as the mitigation effort proceeded.”

“The federal health bureaucracy deserves much of the blame for America’s faltering response to the coronavirus outbreak. But the president has made the fiasco worse.

The bureaucracy reports up to an executive, who is tasked with setting priorities and ensuring performance—and for taking responsibility when there are failures. Instead, Trump has inaccurately blamed the Obama administration for failures that occurred on Trump’s watch. (Indeed, under Barack Obama, diagnostic tests for swine flu were designed and approved in less than two weeks.) Asked whether any of this is his fault, the president rejected the idea, saying, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Trump’s refusal to admit failures makes it more likely that he will repeat them, and that more Americans will pay the price.”