Admissions shifts to a “test-blind” policy

March 8, 2021

Masters will no longer consider the standardized test scores of applicants due to a new “test-blind” policy, which was put into effect this past fall for all incoming applicants. Masters previously required applicants to submit a score from one of two independent school entrance exams––either the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT). 

Unlike the increasingly popular “test-optional” approach––where applicants have the option to choose whether they submit test scores or not––a test-blind policy means that the school ignores all standardized testing completely, putting the focus on other factors, such as grades, teacher recommendations and interviews. 

Many schools, both independent and at the college and university level, have opted for a test-blind or test-optional approach because of the pandemic, which has limited access to standardized tests. And while COVID-19 may have informed Masters’ decision to go test-blind, the school has said that the policy may be here to stay. 

A major reason why, according to Director of Enrollment Management Emma Katznelson, is because of the inherent advantage standardized testing gives to wealthier candidates, who can often afford tutoring and extra help for the exams. For those reasons, Katznelson said the school was likely to have adopted a test-bind policy even if COVID-19 didn’t make the impact it did last spring.

“For us, it’s always been a little bit problematic, philosophically, to be offering and requiring a test that we know gives kids an unfair advantage,” Katznelson said. 

For us, it’s always been a little bit problematic, philosophically, to be offering and requiring a test that we know gives kids an unfair advantage.”

— Emma Katznelson, Director of Enrollment Management

She added that when Masters made the decision to go test-blind in the early summer of last year, the school was one of the only independent schools in the region to have adopted that policy, although numerous others, like Fieldston, followed suit shortly thereafter. 

Masters considered adopting a test-optional policy, but Katznelson said that when some applicants provide a point of assessment that others don’t, it can be difficult to evaluate those candidates against each other fairly. 

“Let’s say you have two candidates from the same school who on paper, look more-or-less the same––same GPA, lovely kids involved in lots of things at the school, would be good humans at Masters––and one sends you test scores that they knocked out of the park, and the other doesn’t send you test scores. Though I know my team to be incredible people who care about justice, it is very hard to not assume that other kid didn’t send the scores because they weren’t good, or to say, ‘I wish I knew, because this kid got perfect scores on the ISEE.’”

However, RCDS has continued to require admissions testing, even with the pandemic. Director of Admissions Matt Suzuki said RCDS recognizes the lack of equity that can come when requiring the ISEE or SSAT, but that his admissions team simply needs the information to accurately evaluate candidates, especially given that due to rules in some public school districts, some applicants are unable to receive letters of recommendation from teachers, and current-year grades are not always accessible due to public school schedules. 

Even through the pandemic, Rye Country Day required students applying for a spot in the 2021-2022 school year to submit a test score. The ISEE and SSAT both offered at-home testing, but between technological issues and limited seating at in-person tests, Suzuki admitted that while some applicants struggled to get admissions testing done, candidates were still able to submit scores to the school. 

Regarding the access issues that required admissions testing raises, Suzuki said that Rye Country Day recognizes the inequities, but struggles to address the issue comprehensively.

“That is something that we’ve discussed and we know it’s an issue. We don’t have any solutions.” 

Queiroz, who was recently admitted to the Class of 2025, said he was grateful Masters has adopted the test-blind policy. 

“The test is the most stressful part––I was relieved,” he said. “But I already felt like Masters would accept me not because of my test score, but because of who I am, and what else I bring to the table.”

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