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Test-Optional Movement: Should We Require SAT or ACT or Neither

Initial research suggests strong consideration of a comprehensive Test Optional policy.

The number of higher education institutions rethinking how they screen and accept new students continues to grow (Goral, 2018).  

Many higher education institutions no longer require ACT or SAT scores for prospective undergraduates.  These test-optional schools say the tests place an unfair cost and burden on low-income and minority students and ultimately hinder efforts to broaden diversity on campus.

Furthermore, admissions directors continue to debate just how useful the tests are at predicting student success and whether that predictive ability is worth compromising access, given the noted cultural biases in these and other standardized tests.  But, as the current Harvard verses Asian-American lawsuit illustrates, using diversity to give preferences over test scores is certainly controversial.

Standardized Testing Proponents

Proponents say the tests provide consistent metrics that help control for variances among states, schools, and curricula.  Even as many colleges jump on the bandwagon, one of their key arguments — that eliminating testing would improve student body diversity — has come under fire.

The College Board has insisted that evidence backs its view that the best way to predict college success is to review both grades and test scores. Three professors at the University of Georgia conducted a study entitled, “The Test-Optional Movement at America’s Selective Liberal Arts Colleges: A Boon for Equity, or Something Else?” They found that there were no changes in low-income and underrepresented student enrollment after the colleges went test-optional (Fouriezos, 2018).

Essays in the book Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Future of College Admissions described research that generally questioned test-optional policies. The policies, the book argues, have failed to add to diversity — or at a minimum, have not led to increases in diversity that outpace gains at institutions with testing requirements. Further, the book highlighted research on high school grade inflation, which some see as an argument for standardized testing (Jaschik, 2018).

Test-Optional

Other report findings show that standardized tests fail to identify talented applicants who can succeed in higher education — and that applicants who opt not to submit scores are in many cases making wise decisions. The test-optional movement reflects a broader shift in society away from “a narrow assessment” of potential.

Some of the findings from the sample studied are as follows:

  • The years following the adoption of a test-optional policy saw increases in the total number of applications by an average of 29 percent at private institutions and 11 percent at public institutions.
  • While the degrees varied, institutions that went test-optional saw gains in the numbers of black and Latino students applying and being admitted to their institutions.
  • About one-fourth of all applicants to the test-optional colleges opted not to submit scores. (The colleges studied did consider the SAT or ACT scores of those who submit them.)
  • Underrepresented minority students were more likely than others to decide not to submit. Among black students, 35 percent opted not to submit. But the figure was only 18 percent for white students. (Women were more likely than men to decide not to submit scores.)
  • “Non-submitters” (as the report termed those who didn’t submit scores) were slightly less likely to be admitted to the colleges to which they applied, but their yield (the rates at which accepted applicants enroll) was higher.
  • First-year grades were slightly lower for non-submitters, but they ended up highly successful, graduating at equivalent rates or — at some institutions — slightly higher rates than did those who submitted test scores (Jaschik, 2018).

In summary, for MANY, if not most, institutions across the country, GPA is a much better predictor of student success in college than standardized test scores.  And, high-achieving non-submitters performed as well in the classroom as the control group of regular admits, while increasing diversity, and first-generation college student representation in the incoming class.

We do caution institutions to perform thorough research of their historical enrollment in order to guide potential policy changes regarding test score requirements.  Overall, initial results support strong consideration of a comprehensive Test Optional policy (with consideration of minimum GPA standards). And we believe that the majority of independent colleges and universities could go a long way toward meeting enrollment, diversity, and access goals in part through the adoption of a Test Optional admissions policy.

We wish to acknowledge and thank Dave Burke, Associate Vice President, Enrollment Solution, with Credo Higher Education for his contribution to this article.

 

Bibliography

Fouriezos, N. (2018, August 31). College Admissions Minus The Tests Does Not Add Up To Diversity.

Goral, T. (2018, August 28). Higher Ed’s Test-Optional Movement Grows Significantly.

Jaschik, S. (2018, April 27). Making the Case for Test Optional.

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