Millersville University announced a pilot program last week that will make SAT and ACT scores optional for Lancaster County students who apply for admission.

This is a trend among colleges and universities: Instead of zeroing in on standardized test scores, they’d rather take the measure of the whole student.

So they’re looking at community involvement, extracurricular activities, high school GPA, class rank and what a Temple University press release called “noncognitive factors, such as a student’s grit, determination and self-confidence.”

Ironic, isn’t it?

As our public schools become ever more focused on high-stakes standardized tests, colleges are finding them less important.

The reality is that Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Keystone Exams are as much tests of teachers as they are of students.

We understand the desire among the politicians who mandated those tests for ways to quantify school and teacher competency.

Teachers and schools need to be held accountable; the job they do is too important to be left to chance.

But somewhere along the line, the education of the whole child was sacrificed to the urgency of teaching to a test.

Schools are cutting music and art instruction not just because of budgetary concerns, but because administrators feel compelled to cram as much academic instruction as possible into the school day.

The pressure only has increased with the introduction of Pennsylvania Core Standards, which are aimed at unifying how math skills and literacy are taught in schools across the country.

We’re told that high-stakes testing and common standards are essential if American students are to be prepared for college and  prepared to compete in the global economy.

But those students actually have to get into college.

It appears that colleges are becoming less interested in test-taking automatons who are adept at memorization and penciling in tiny bubbles on forms.

Corporate CEOs aren’t so interested in them, either. Surveys have shown that they’re seeking employees who work collaboratively and think critically and creatively.

Unfortunately, creativity is on the decline, according to Kyung Hee Kim, an educational psychologist at The College of William and Mary.

She analyzed the scores of schoolchildren in kindergarten through 12th grade on a battery of measures of creativity.

The results indicated that “creative thinking is declining over time among Americans of all ages, especially in kindergarten through third grade.  The decline is steady and persistent, from 1990 to present,” she wrote, in a report titled “The Creativity Crisis.”

One culprit identified by Kim?

The increased emphasis on standardized testing.

Music lessons, art classes, enrichment activities — these are the springboards children need to make themselves into the well-rounded young adults colleges and employers are seeking.

The stakes are high indeed.

What to Read Next