Wake Forest University

September 2012

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for September, 2012

An Increasingly Test-Optional Landscape

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Today in high schools throughout America, there is arguably more emphasis than ever on the [perceived] importance of college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. A number of schools – private and public – offer test prep as part of their curriculum. The College Board, the SAT’s parent company, also offers a slew of preparatory experiences including the PSAT, study guides, and online resources. And yet, all the while, as the Los Angeles Times wrote last week, college admissions is becoming increasingly supportive of the test-optional movement.

Take, for instance, the fact that more than 25 percent of the U.S. News & World Report Top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges employed test-optional policies in 2007,  a statistic that now stands at roughly 30 percent. In all, 875 – or 38 percent of all accredited 4-year colleges – now make submitting test scores optional for applicants. Even top ranking officials at some of the country’s most elite colleges have hinted at continued examination of the role of testing in admissions. Here’s why:

Evidence shows that the SAT is not the strongest predictor of students’ college performance; rather, it most strongly correlates with students’ family income. Assessment of a student’s course load and classroom performance across the duration of high school best demonstrates a student’s potential for college success. Test-optional policies hold college admissions officers accountable for delving into the essence of students (via thought-provoking essays or personal interviews), necessitating that they be seen as individuals – not test scores. It is a tall task to ask, but well worth the payoff.

The richness of perspective in test-optional learning environments is undeniable. Students come from many backgrounds and walks of life and facilitate deeper, more comprehensive [and necessary] dialogue both inside and outside of the classroom. Ongoing research has also shown that students who chose to withhold test scores during admission perform on par with – or better than – students who submitted scores.

SAT Scores Down Create More Cause for Concern

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

This week news of the continued streak of average SAT scores falling highlighted a number of issues around students’ general preparedness for the test, as well as the disparities that exist among different racial/ethic and socioeconomic groups. For the second year in a row (and fifth year in the last seven) the average scores in critical reading and writing have dipped, both of which now sit below the 500-point benchmark. While the number of test-takers grew for both the SAT and ACT, the average score for the ACT remained the same as last year – a 21.1 composite. While these statistics are cause for concern, perhaps more startling are the gaps between majority and minority groups of test-takers, with black and Latino students performing the lowest of any groups.

A reason for such a trend might be students’ curricular experiences leading up to these tests. The vast majority of white students (80 percent or more) who took the SAT report completing their high school’s core curriculum; conversely, only 69 percent and 65 percent of black and Latino students, respectively, have done so. Socioeconomic statistics provide additional perspective; only 65 percent of students with a family income on $20,000 or less completed the core curriculum, whereas 84 percent of those with family income about $200,000 or more did so.

Juvenile Records and Admissions

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

College admissions officers rely upon the information told to them about a student to make suitable admissions decisions on behalf of the university. While there’s virtually no way to share every piece of information that a college may wish to consider about an applicant, shouldn’t colleges be made aware of matters that involve even the slightest misstep of the law? Most colleges do, in fact, ask questions of their applicants pertaining to ‘criminal convictions;’ however, in some states, such wording would not encompass violations that occurred when the applicant was a juvenile (or under the age of 16).

So, what to make of this?

This month, a Pennsylvania court of appeals ruled that Temple University (and other institutions) should have been made aware of a student the school accepted (and who ultimately enrolled there) who had been previously found responsible for disseminating child pornography (the case has since gone to another appeal). The juvenile court that originally heard the case ruled that Temple be notified, though this never occurred after the court stayed its ruling (on objection from the defendant). The defendant’s high school had no obligation to notify the colleges to which he applied because he had not violated any school rules. Perhaps worse – he had committed, what would have otherwise been classified a crime, if not for his age.

Finding the middle ground between allowing troubled youths to move beyond their transgressions and keeping college campuses safe is a tall task. High schools do not have standardized policies for notifying college admissions officers of violations of any sort, which therefore has a disparate impact on some students. Likewise, state courts still struggle to determine where the line should be drawn. Always a hot topic, it will require that high schools, the courts, and colleges all work together to create a system that is in the best interest for all parties involved.

The Link Between the SAT and Wealth

Monday, September 17th, 2012

In recent years, a number of studies have concluded that the SAT, thought for decades to be the best measure for determining college preparedness, is in fact most strongly correlated with one’s household income – not his or her predicted success in college. However, a new study published in the journal Psychological Science looks to reestablished the SAT’s predictive value, saying that it is a strong measure, especially when evaluated in combination with high school GPA. The study, which employed several large samples across socioeconomic groups, could serve as a strong argument against recent  movements that look to diminish the SAT’s significance (i.e. test-optional admissions policies).

However, to say that circumstances surrounding this study are biased would be an understatement. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising aspect of the new study is the source of its funding – the College Board – the very organization that administers the SAT. Furthermore, one author of the study, Paul R. Sackett, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, also works as a consultant to the College Board. Though the study itself makes note of the College Board’s hand in funding the research and Sackett’s relationship with the College Board, the official press release issued by the Association for Psychological Science (the publisher of the journal) made no mention of the link.

In the coming days, there are sure to be a number of national conversations around this study and on both sides of the argument. We’ll keep you posted.