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Marlborough eliminates ISEE and SSAT in admissions

Staff Illustrator Sera ’24

Marlborough has eliminated the use of the Independent School Entrance Exam and the Secondary Schools Admissions Test from the admissions process. The main reason that Marlborough decided to eliminate these tests was to increase equity in admissions, according to Director of Enrollment Management and Community Engagement Jeanette Woo Chitjian.
“[W]e talked about…who has access to test prep and that, unless you already attend an independent school, you may not have any familiarity with the test,” Woo Chitjian said. “There are some families who have never heard of the ISEE, and they immediately feel at a disadvantage.”
According to Director of Education and Counseling Services Marissa Crandall, the ISEE and SSAT are biased towards the wealthy and the privileged, making them bad metrics to evaluate applicants.
“If you are in a school that is not well resourced and you are going to take a test that isn’t really aligned with most public school curriculums, what is it really testing?” Crandall said. “Is it testing really your capacity as it purports to test, or is it testing how much money you have, and what school district you came from?”
Eric Reinholtz is the Director of Studies and the co-chair of the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment committee, which has been evaluating equity in assessments. He thinks that the ISEE and SSAT do not focus on the most important aspects of applicants.
“[F]or me, the measure of a student is the individual’s intellectual curiosity—the desire to know more about themselves and the world they live in,” Reinholtz said. “I don’t see a great deal of intellectual curiosity in paying some company to teach me how to score 10% higher on some standardized test.”
Crandall hopes that eliminating the tests will make it easier for students to apply and make applicants feel like the school cares about more than just how well they do on standardized tests.
“I certainly hope that it will reduce barriers to people applying,” Crandall said. “[T]aking the test itself costs money, and then a lot of applicants do test prep which costs a lot of money…I definitely hope that it will have an effect of broadening the pool of applicants and also just communicate to those applicants that we care about the whole child and not just how well you can prepare for this test.”
Marlborough will no longer allow applicants to submit either the ISEE or SSAT scores, even if they have already taken the tests. Woo Chitjian thinks that this change will not have a large effect on how applicants are assessed, even though it is a large shift in the admissions process.
“The reality is that for years, as long as I’ve been at Marlborough, we’ve never relied on the test to make an admissions decision,” Woo Chitjian said. “So it was pretty easy once we focused on…the equity issue to say we have everything we need…so we do not need this test.”
Reinholtz believes that eliminating these tests will enable those who are not best measured through standardized test scores to come to Marlborough.
“Right now our student body is made up of smart, passionate, empathetic young people,” Reinholz said. “That isn’t going to change. But maybe we will be able to attract some really exceptional folks whose particular skill set can’t be measured on a scantron form.”