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Rethinking Admissions

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Posts Tagged ‘ACT’

How the SAT lost its dominant position

Monday, September 20th, 2010

How did the “Avis” of college standardized testing overtake the “Hertz” of the field? That’s the question Bob Schaeffer addresses in his Washington Post blog post on how the ACT caught up with the rival SAT, the dominant college entrance exam for the past 80 years. A new report shows that for the first time ever, the same number of high school seniors – about 1.5 million — took each test this year. But that’s not because the ACT is a better test than the SAT, says Schaeffer, who is the public education director of FairTest. In fact, neither test is as good at predicting college academic performance as high school grades, he writes. Both tests also have similar problems with biases against minorities, he adds.

There are actually three key reasons why the SAT lost its dominant position, Shaeffer says. For starters, the ACT is more “consumer-friendly” because it does not deduct points for incorrect answers and has always allowed students to decide which scores colleges receive. In contrast, the SAT still has a “guessing penalty” and implemented its “score choice” this year. In addition, the ACT content better reflects high school classroom work and includes subjects such as science, not covered in the SAT. Last but not least, the writing section is optional in the ACT in contrast to the mandatory writing section in the SAT. It’s not surprising therefore that all colleges that still require applicants to submit standardized test scores now accept the ACT as an alternative to the SAT.  This is good news for students who now have two equal choices in college admissions exams. But, according to Schaeffer, it’s even better news that more and more universities are dropping admissions exam requirements altogether. These so-called test-optional policies, he says, offer students the best alternative of all.

Salve Regina University Goes Test-Optional

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Salve ReginaSalve Regina, a Catholic liberal arts university in Rhode Island, is the latest to announce it is making SAT and ACT standardized test scores optional for most students applying for admission. The university announced its decision, which is effective immediately, as it was welcoming the largest freshman class in its history.

 Salve Regina joins more than 800 colleges and universities that also have gone test-optional in recent years. The decision to become test optional is the result of a long process of research and discussion,” Laura McPhie Oliveira, vice president for enrollment said in a statement. “Our research shows that the best predictor of academic success at Salve Regina is strong performance in a rigorous college preparatory program. The goal is to stay true to the inclusive spirit of our mission and focus on what really matters, which is a student’s ability to succeed and thrive in our community.”

 The statement pointed out that there is increasing concern that standardized test scores are not good predictors of academic success because they can be influenced by environmental, cultural and economic factors. By adopting the new policy, Salve Regina hopes to enhance its commitment to a high-performing and diverse student body.

“Our staff will continue to review applications as thoroughly as we have done in the past,” said Colleen Emerson, dean of undergraduate admissions. “The most important part of our application review process has always been and will continue to be a student’s day-to-day performance in a strong curriculum. Our best applicants have always been those who have challenged themselves to go beyond the minimum requirements.”

Study: Low-income students still unlikely to attend selective colleges

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

rewardingstriversResearchers Anthony Carnevale and Stephen J. Rose rocked the academic world in 2004 with their landmark study that showed students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile were 25 times less likely to enroll in the most selective colleges than their wealthier counterparts. In response to those findings, several highly respected universities changed both their admissions and financial aid policies in order to attract more low-income applicants. Public policy supported those efforts by making more federal and state financial aid available to low-income students.

But a new analysis by Carnevale, co-authored with Jeff Strohl, shows that despite these efforts, social, ethnic and racial stratification remains high. Their latest findings, published in the new book  Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College, suggest that even more stratification has resulted from higher admissions standards put in place recently at selective universities. These standards are rooted heavily in standardized test scores, stacking the deck against minority and low-income students who have historically scored low on tests such as the SAT and ACT.

According to Carnevale and Strohl’s analysis, students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile accounted for just 3 percent of students at the most competitive institutions in 1982. Nearly a quarter century later, in 2006, they accounted for only 5 percent. “If this were K-12 education, we’d be in court” over the differences in how low-income and other students are treated in what he called a “dual system” of higher education, Carnevale told Inside Higher Education.

Given the lack of progress in moving low-income and minority students into selective colleges, it might make more sense to improve the quality of the institutions they do attend, Carnevale said. “Instead of continuing to struggle to move more students into selective colleges where the high-priced quality programs reside, we may be more successful moving money and quality programs to the community colleges where most of our students reside,” he and Strohl write in the book.