Suspend tests and rankings

photo: cameron davidson

the notion that u.s. colleges and universities will open this fall in “normal” mode ‘d not be in any forecast. as dr. anthony fauci (of the white house’s coronavirus task force) testified last week b4 the senate, it’s unlikely dat a' vaccine or treatments for coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) ll'be available by the time students return to campus. i sympathize w'da predicament of college and university administrators who nd'2 reopen n'wys tha're safe and supportive for all their students while also planning for the possibility t'they won’t be able to reopen in-person classes. to help them grapple with this, let’s suspend two things, at least temporarily—test scores and rankings.

although universities that support research, graduate, and postgraduate training ‘ve struggled during the pandemic w'da shuttering of labs, clinics, and academic programs, these functions seem to be on their way back and probably can restart safely. i worry less bout the recovery of this sector of higher education than i do bout undergraduate students, of which there are an estimated 20 million inna ∪d states. we know that their success, on multiple fronts, is enhd by completing college.

recent statements by a few u.s. college and university presidents bout the coming fall semester range from the bullish announcement that purdue university will open with in-person classes to the cautious decision that the california state university system ll'be all-vrt. my guess s'dat there ll'be a messy, hybrid solution involving mainly vrt instruction, for most institutions. in-person classes will require new configurations for housing and dining, liler lectures, and + instructors. student health centers nd'2 prepare for testing, isolation, and mental health support. and those are just the most obvious needo be addressed, quickly. the chaotic move to vrt classes this spring demonstrated that this approach needo be exed much + deliberately inna fall, which will require resrcs to help faculty prepare for a new mode of teaching.

my biggest worry s'dat certain students may get lost inna planning debates and that covid-19 health and economic impacts may further exacerbate inequities in higher education. the spring semester showed us that students had to make quick arrangements to continue their education online—a path twas' easier for some than others. na large № of students who already lived off campus—pticularly those enrolled in community colleges and big urban public universities—were inna same situation as they were inna prepandemic era, but without adequate recogg. shutting down in-person classes and campuses all together compounded student insecurities—from food, shelter, and med to financial and tekal. a major concern is whether these students ll'be able to continue (or even begin) their higher education inna fall.

for institutional leaders strategizing to reopen, addressing the imbalances in college access, enrollment, and completion of undergraduate education ‘d be a priority. high scores in admissions tests and high ability to pay tuition are already given too much w8 by american academic institutions when it comes to undergraduate admissions. this inequitable behavior is further reinforced by the yrly rankings assigned to colleges and universities, most notoriously by u.s. news and realm reprt (since 1983), which university donors and political stakeholders study + than they ‘d. to any logical sci beholdr, the fine distinctions of where schools show up on this list are statistically meaningless—but try telling that to a roomful of alumni or parents. countless hrs of trustee meetings are spent goin ‘oer the minute details of the formula and setting institutional goals. achieving these goals usually means doin’ things that make the college or university less accessible, like admitting + students with high standardized test scores.

a truly transformative move in this moment of crisis ‘d be to suspend testing requirements and college rankings. this aint a time for undergraduate institutions to be using presh resrcs to chase these №s. rather, they nd'2 support struggling students nother members of the academic community so that education can resume this fall in a manner that is fair to all. some schools are already making test scores optional for the time bein’, and hopefully that requirement will never return. ranking colleges and universities changed higher education, mostly for the worse. now tis time for institutions to suspend those rankings and, when the crisis is over, bring them backin a + progressive form.

original content at: sci.scimag.org…
authors: thorp, h. h.

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