11/12/2014 11:40 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Test-blind and Rigorous

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Students are not simply vessels into which knowledge is poured, and authentic academic rigor implies engagement and effort on the part of the learner. My last post explored how grades can discourage intellectual risk-taking and inhibit curiosity. I turn now to a pernicious way we fail learners by relying on standardized tests, reducing them to a number tied more to financial background than achievement.

Myth number two: The higher the standardized test score, the "better" the student.

Fact sheets and information about what's wrong with standardized tests, as well as a list of more than 800 test-optional colleges and universities, are available at I'll just hit a few highlights here.

Multiple-choice tests don't tell us much about a student's thinking. Or creativity. Or motivation. Or ability to put ideas into action and employ knowledge for positive change.

Not all good students are good test takers, particularly under stress, and taking a test that can grant you entry or deny you access can certainly be stressful. Testing is used to sort students; collective scores are used to rank colleges. Just as grades can inhibit individual risk-taking, tests and rankings can incentivize colleges not to take risks.

After decades as test-optional, an approach we helped to pioneer, Hampshire College has opted out of the arms race around testing and rankings completely, even as we are becoming more selective in our admissions processes. There are much better -- and fairer -- ways for us to identify students with the motivation, discipline, and curiosity to thrive at Hampshire.

The decision to become test-blind was driven by our mission, and by deep commitments to authentic assessment and inclusive excellence. Diversity is a strategic priority for Hampshire, and both selectivity and diversity are stressed in our mission-driven enrollment strategy. We are determined to find, recruit, and support those students who will most benefit from our particular educational approach, and who will consider their time at Hampshire as one of the most exciting and intellectually rewarding experiences of their lives.

While standardized tests create a bias toward financially better off students, they do not predict success at Hampshire, which requires and rewards active inquiry, independent thinking, and creativity -- the kind of rigorous excellence that can't be measured by a standardized test.