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Posts Tagged ‘ACT’

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.

Lees-McRae College Goes Test-Optional

Monday, August 13th, 2012

This year, Lees-McRae College will make the transition into a test-optional admissions policy that will allow students to decide for themselves whether they would like to submit their SAT or ACT scores for evaluation. As stated on the institution’s website, it is believed that other considerations correlate more strongly to a student’s predicted success in college. For more information on the nearly 900 colleges and universities who use test-optional admissions policies, visit www.fairtest.org/.

Faculty Role in Admissions

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

From Inside Higher Ed

By Joseph Soares

Following my presentation last year at “The Case for Change in College Admissions” conference at the University of Southern California, a dean from one of America’s most prestigious universities said, “We know the SAT and ACT are not good predictors of college grades, but our faculty resist going test-optional. They are worried about standards.”

While the debate over standardized tests and college admissions began 20 years ago, the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room is faculty complacency and ignorance. Nearly all of the 870 colleges that are test-optional today have gone that way due to leadership from administrators or admissions deans. It’s a harsh reality, but as winners at the testing game many faculty are oblivious to the damage done by a test that is statistically redundant and socially discriminatory. It’s time to set the record straight.

Faculty members need to know that college admissions remain more art than science. As documented in my new book, SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions, our best statistical models predicting first-year college grades explain only about 30 percent of what’s going on, leaving 70 percent of what matters unknown. In those models, the academic variable carrying the most weight is always high school grades, while the unique statistical contribution of test scores is marginal: for example, at Johns Hopkins it adds two percentage points; at the University of Georgia one percent; and at DePaul one percent.

In my book, the president emeritus of the University of California Richard Atkinson and Berkeley statistician Saul Geiser stress, “[i]rrespective of the quality or type of school attended, cumulative grade point average (GPA) in academic subjects in high school has proved to be the best overall predictor of student performance in college. This finding has been confirmed in the great majority of ‘predictive-validity’ studies conducted over the years, including studies conducted by the testing agencies themselves.”

When not being “truth-optional” in their public relations spin, even the tests’ sponsors concede that the single variable that most highly correlates with college grades is high school grades earned over four years, not test scores derived from four hours of stress on a Saturday morning.

Rather than leveling the playing field, standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT perpetuate social discrimination in the name of academic selectivity. Whereas high school GPA and class rank do not correlate with family income, the SAT and ACT can’t say that. Defenders of the tests say they are fair and the social disparities expressed in scores sadly reflect the unfairness of life, but the reality is that family income, gender, and race predict test scores more powerfully than test scores predict college grades.

As a result, the tests create a costly, anxiety-ridden and time-consuming distraction from real learning. They undermine the high school curriculum, sending the wrong signal to youth that test prep – which typically costs hundreds, if not thousands of dollars – will get you further than hard work in class. Would standardized testing have such a powerful and distorting impact on the whole of the K-12 experience if the SAT or ACT were not required by colleges for admissions?

Faculty need to know that rather than lowering standards, test-optional admissions raise them, and there’s new data to prove it. Wake Forest University went test-optional three years ago, and since then we’ve seen first-year students from the top 10 percent of their high school class jump from 65 percent in 2008 to 83 percent this year. Pell Grant recipients have doubled. Our student body is more racially and socioeconomically diverse than ever before. Library usage is up, and classroom discussions are reportedly livelier than before.

It’s just as Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade predicts in SAT Wars: going test-optional increases the social diversity and academic strength of students at private colleges, and being “don’t ask, don’t tell” at public universities does the same. We expect to see universities that drop the requirement, including most recently Clark University and DePaul University, rewarded with stronger and more diverse applicant pools in the near future. Test-optional enriches the campus experience. So what would it take to end this farce?

Charles Murray, a contributor to SAT Wars, believes that action by top colleges such as Harvard or Stanford would push us past the tipping point. “If just those two schools took such a step, many other schools would follow suit immediately, and the rest within a few years.” He adds, “Admissions officers at elite schools are already familiar with the statistical story … They know that dropping the SAT would not hinder their selection decisions.”

The aforementioned dean asked me to send a copy of SAT Wars for an overdue discussion amongst faculty at that prominent institution. With data from Wake Forest and other schools that have removed the requirement on the table, it’s time for professors at America’s most prestigious colleges to set the myths aside and take their position of academic leadership seriously. It’s time to do your own research, hold a discussion, contribute to the national debate, and vote. Don’t be part of the problem when you hold the solution in your hands.

Doubts About the SAT

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

A new twist has been added to the conversation surrounding the use of standardized tests as a measure of academic preparedness for college-bound high schoolers.  In March, North Carolina will begin requiring all high school students to sit for three different diagnostic tests, chief among which is the ACT.  Said to be more content-based than the SAT, the ACT is expected to be a better identifier of weaknesses in academics content areas.  With its announcement, North Carolina begins a new era of testing that further reinforces the cultural significance placed on standardized tests.  Furthermore, the announcement draws a clear distinction between what the state feels are the benefits of the ACT and the shortcomings of its counterpart. Jane Stancill of the News Observer writes about the ongoing debate and the changes that are set to take place.

DePaul Goes Test-Optional

Friday, February 18th, 2011

depaul-logoDePaul University in Chicago became the largest private non-profit university to go test-optional when it announced that applicants for the 2012 freshman class will no longer be required to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of their application. DePaul joins a growing number of colleges and universities, including Wake Forest, that have opted to make standardized test scores optional for applicants.

In a statement, DePaul officials said the new policy will further enhance the university’s student-centered approach to admission, supporting the conviction that four years of performance and learning in high school are far more important than performance on a four-hour test.

“Standardized test scores are strongly correlated with income, and scores vary dramatically across ethnic groups, raising questions about their fairness to all member of our society,” the university said in the statement. “The prevalence of the ‘test preparation industry’ and the ability of wealthier students to take the test repeated times contribute to the debate about equity.”

DePaul said it expects the vast majority of applicants will continue to submit test scores as part of the application process. However, Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management, added that he expects to see more applicants with high GPAs and low ACT and SAT scores.

Student who choose not to submit standardized test scores will be asked to write short responses to essay questions designed to measure non-cognitive traits, such as leadership, ability to meet long-term goals, and commitment to service.

“Admissions officers have often said that you can’t measure heart,” Boeckenstedt told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “This, in some sense, is an attempt to measure that heart.”

The groundwork for the new policy was put in place several years ago when DePaul introduced four short essay questions to its freshman application.

One question prompted applicants to describe a goal they had set for themselves and how they planned to accomplish it: “How would you compare your educational interests and goals with other students in your high school?” Another question said: “Describe a personal challenge you have faced, or a situation in which you or others were treated unfairly. How did you react to the situation and what conclusions did you draw from the experience? Were you able to turn to others for support?”

DePaul has not yet announced how many questions applicants will be asked to complete if they do not submit test scores.

Student Urges Others to ACT Out Against SAT

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

allie kauffmanA few months ago, we introduced you to Sylvie Baldwin, a high school senior who worked with Lawrence University to produce a video explaining why she would only be applying to test-optional colleges.

Now meet Allie Kauffmann, the daughter of a film professor at Boston University, who also has gone public with her views about the SAT. Her video was inspired by the fact that an $800 test-prep course improved her score by 300 points. “What if you don’t have the money? Too bad,” Allie explains in the film. “You’re competing against kids who do. It’s like playing basketball against kids on ladders.”

 Allie and her father have taken their cause one step further. They have started a website and a petition called  — “ACT Out Against SAT”  — urging college and universities to stop requiring the  tests as a condition for admission. Their goal is to gather 10,000 signatures and submit the final document to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars.

 “We have put this petition together to call your attention to how unfair and biased these tests are. The tests are unfair to females, minorities, students whose second language is English and students who can’t afford quality test prep classes or tutors,” they write. “Too many students are at a disadvantage when taking these tests.

 “Therefore, we respectfully ask that you no longer use ACT or SAT scores when evaluating whether a student qualifies for admission to college or when determining scholarships.”

 At last count, the petition had a little over 200 signatures, but Allie has at least one strong ally on her side. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, FairTest a testing watchdog group, worked closely with the Kauffmanns on the film.

What Happens After a University Goes Test-Optional?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

FairTest reports that more than 830 four-year colleges and universities have gone test-optional in recent years. That means that applicants are not required to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of their applications, however they may do so if they wish. But that bodes the question of how admissions officers decide who is qualified and who is not in the absence of standardized test scores? The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on the views of admissions officers at test-optional colleges and universities. Here’s an overview of what they had to say (we’ve also added a few of our own):

  • Muhlenberg College requires applicants who don’t submit standardized test scores to participate in a personal interview — either by phone or in person – and submit a copy of a graded paper.
  • Goucher College looks closely at applicants’ level of interest in the college.  Included in their application are questions about what other institutions they are applying to, and why they are interested in attending Goucher.
  • After deciding to go test-optional in Fall 2010, Fairfield University also added supplemental questions to the Common Application. They ask applicants to reflect on the school’s missions and vision and how they see themselves as members of the community. Applicants also are encouraged to schedule a campus interview or arrange for one with an alumnus.
  • Salisbury University only allows applicants who have earned a high school GPA of 3.5 to go test-optional, but those applicants must also provide a personal statement to support  their individual achievements.

Despite this wide array of admissions requirements many parents are still confused when it comes to test-optional schools. Jennifer Gayles, assistant director of admissions at Sarah Lawrence College, told the Chronicle that parents are sometimes surprised when they hear the college is test-optional and ask, “Well, what do you look at?”

Two More Colleges Go Test-Optional

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Two more colleges have made the decision to go test-optional in recent days.  Virginia Wesleyan College limited its decision to prospective freshman with a grade point average of 3.5 in a college prep curriculum, but Sage Colleges of New York included all applicants in its new policy. In announcing the decision, Sage’s provost Terry Weiner said that high school grades and class rank are the best predictors of college success. “The SAT continues to be a less reliable predictor of first-year performance or success in college compared to high school GPA and class rank. Our own studies at Sage have confirmed this. We continue to rely on our assessment of the whole record as the best way to assess students ready for Sage,” Weiner said in a statement. But he added that there were other reasons why the policy makes sense. “In this time of economic distress students should not have to choose between expensive cram courses or tutoring for these tests, or worry about losing ground in the competition for college admission.”

 Virginia Wesleyan, which describes itself as the only private, liberal arts institution in the Hampton Roads area, is focusing its new test-optional policy on classroom “stars” who do not perform well on standardized tests. “These are some of the best students we see – superb in the classroom, but not necessarily super test takers,” Dean of Admissions Patty Patten said in a statement.  “We want to welcome those students into the college community and offer them financial aid and scholarships. Students with a strong track record in high school know how to study, and that allows them to be successful in the college arena as well.”

A Kaleidoscope Approach to Admissions

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

sternberg bookBack in the day when standardized college admissions tests were created, most applicants were white males in the middle- to upper-middle-class. Today, applicants are from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. That’s one of the reasons why Robert J. Sternberg, the new provost of Oklahoma State University, is urging college admissions deans to go beyond standardized test scores and high school GPA and consider a wide range of qualities when ranking applicants.

The admissions strategy Sternberg is espousing is called the “Kaledioscope” system, and it has been used successfully at Tufts University where he served as dean of arts and science for the last five years. We first wrote about the system on this blog last year.  Now Sternberg has outlined the details of the experiment in a new book called College Admissions for the 21st Century (Harvard University Press)

In an interview with Inside Higher Education , Sternberg said the Kaleidoscope system is based on the view that a college education should produce leaders who will make a positive difference in the world. That’s why questions are based on a theory of leadership called WICS, which stands for wisdom, intelligence, creativity, synthesized.

In a nutshell, the system entails assessing applicants’ creative, analytical, practical and wisdom-based skills. For example, applicants might be asked creative questions like “write a story with a title such as ‘The End of MTV’ or submit a creative video via YouTube. Or in assessing analytical thinking, the question might be: ‘What is your favorite book and why?’ An example of a practical item would be to explain how you would convince a friend to change their viewpoint on an issue. A wisdom-based question could be to explain how you would take a current passion and transform it later to serve the common good.

While the responses are rated holistically, they also are based on rubrics. In addition, the system’s ability to predict college success has been validated statistically, Sternberg said. Furthermore, while traditional standardized tests show “substantial ethnic-group differences, Kaldeidoscope measures do not,” Sternberg said, adding that the measures are designed to supplement traditional assessments, not replace them.

Measurements like the ones in the Kaleidoscope system reflect 21st century thinking, in contrast to standardized tests, which have remained largely unchanged for the last 100 years, Sternberg said.

“Those who work for testing organizations might see this constancy of measurement as a positive thing. But imagine if other technologies, such as in telecommunications or medicine, were largely stuck a century in the past!” he said. “The problem, as I see it, is that the skills measured by traditional tests are quite narrow and do not adequately reflect the full range of skills needed for college and life success.”