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Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Posts Tagged ‘sat’

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.

Going Against the SAT (cont.)

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Last Sunday, Wake Forest University dean of admissions Martha Allman made a guest appearance in the Washington Post in an article that discusses the merits of the SAT, as well as Joseph A. Soares’ new book, SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional Admissions. Considering all of the pieces that comprise a student’s admissions profile,  the article asks the question: “Is the SAT the best way to spend a Saturday?”

Going Against the SAT

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

From the New York Times:

A New Book Argues Against the SAT

By REBECCA R. RUIZ

When Wake Forest University announced three years ago that it would make the SAT optional for its undergraduate applicants, among those cheering was Joseph Soares, a sociology professor at the university. Mr. Soares has channeled his enthusiasm for Wake Forest’s decision — as well as for similar policies at several hundred other colleges — into a new book, “SAT Wars,” that argues for looking beyond standardized test scores in college admissions. (The book was published last month by Teachers College Press.)

“The SAT and ACT are fundamentally discriminatory,” Mr. Soares said in a phone interview last week.

Through his own essays in the book, as well as those of contributors that he edited, Mr. Soares seeks to build a case against the SAT. He characterizes it as a test that tends to favor white, male, upper income students with the means to prepare for it.

Chang Young Chung, a statistical programmer, and Thomas J. Espenshade, a sociology professor, both at Princeton University, co-authored one chapter in which they cite a study that examined national SAT data from the late 1990s. That study broke applicants into three socio-economic classes. They found that 29 percent of students from the highest social class scored above 1400 on the SAT, compared to 24 percent of middle class students and 14 percent of lower class students. Turning that pyramid on its head, the study found that those students from lower social classes were more likely to have earned a top high school G.P.A.

In seeking academically engaged students, Mr. Soares said in an interview with The Choice, colleges should pay more attention to high school grades and give less credence to standardized test scores.

“High school grades are the single most powerful predictor of college performance,” he said. “High SAT scores over-predict how well a student is going to do in college, and they’re inversely related to academic engagement.”

In another chapter of “SAT Wars,” Jay Rosner, executive director of The Princeton Review Foundation, addresses the gender gap on the SAT. Mr. Rosner asserts that the math portion of the test is “male-leaning,” citing data from 1998 and 2000 which found that men performed better than women on 97 percent of math test questions whereas women performed better than men on only .8 percent of them.

Mr. Rosner suggested that the composition of questions is unfair, and that the percentage of questions skewed toward men versus those skewed toward women is unnatural.

Mr. Soares agreed. “I don’t blame the SAT,” he said. “But they’ve inadvertently ended up with a statistical algorithm that is systematically biased against racial minorities and women.”

Mr. Soares emphasized that those colleges that have taken the plunge, and gone test-optional, have found themselves choosing from an applicant pool that is richer in the diversity of students’ backgrounds and interests. He cited Wake Forest as an example, where in the three years since eliminating the SAT as a requirement, the school has seen dramatic increases in minority applicants, international students and Pell Grant recipients at rates far outstripping the overall rise in total applications (16 percent).

Martha Allman, dean of admissions at Wake Forest, echoed the satisfaction with those statistics. A contributor to “SAT Wars” herself, she had written that she was “still a little scared,” at having eliminated the SAT. But, in a phone conversation last week, she sounded more confident.

“The first cohort are now juniors, and we’ve seen our applicant pool change,” she said. “We have greater diversity and better students. The proof is in the pudding.”

At the least, the book appears to have gotten some attention within the corridors of the College Board, which oversees the SAT exam. Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the board, said in an e-mail message that “a number of staffers” had read it.

“As a nonprofit education membership organization, the College Board respects the right of colleges and universities to set their own admissions policies,” Ms. Steinberg said. “However, given the complexity of the admissions landscape, we strongly encourage institutions to use as many valid factors as possible when evaluating their applicants, including standardized test scores.

She added: “Research shows that the SAT, when combined with high school GPA, is the best predictor of first-year college success. And performance on the SAT also can be used by admissions personnel to help predict retention and performance beyond freshman year.”

The Price of SAT Success?

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

students-arrested-for-sat-cheating-11093001One of the goals of this Rethinking Admissions blog is to highlight the need for change in the increasingly high pressure world of college admissions. The stress created by the admissions process on students and their families now starts earlier than ever. That pressure has led to ever more extreme measures being created, marketed, and attempted in order to exploit the fears of applicants anxious to gain an edge on the competition.

This latest story from New York is symptomatic of how far some will go in pursuit of that edge. It is also points out alternatives to such desperate tactics that can alleviate the pressure which increases every test season. As more colleges join the test-optional movement, it is possible that students may soon see the day when cheating on the SAT or ACT is rendered unthinkable.

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.

Huffington Post Spotlights 11 Test-Optional Schools

Friday, November 12th, 2010

The Huffington Post turned its lens on the test-optional movement this week, focusing in particular on 11 competitive institutions where most if not all standardized tests are no longer required for admission. Among them was Wake Forest University, which announced its decision to go test-optional in 2008. Also among the ranks of colleges and universities highlighted in the piece are New York University, Bryn Mawr, Middlebury College and American University. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Test, more than 800 American four-year colleges and universities are now test optional.

The article points out that the SAT was initially intended to give all applicants an equal chance of being accepted to the university of their choice. But the “democratic goals” have gone awry as those who can afford it enroll in expensive prep courses or hire private tutors. The Huffington Post then asked its readers to weigh in the issue by asking whether they think the SAT be phased out. The opinions came pouring in, and at last count, there were more than 135 comments – both for and against the test-optional movement. Which way do you lean on this issue? Let’s continue the conversation.

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?”

“Conscientious Objector” Opts Out of SAT

Friday, October 29th, 2010

lawrence_fullWhen admissions officers at Lawrence University met high school senior Sylvie Baldwin, they realized that she was a perfect example of why the school decided to enact a test-optional policy back in 2005. So they came up with the idea of producing a video with Sylvie and posting it on YouTube. In the 5-minute clip, Sylvie explains why she has decided not to take standardized tests ever again and plans to apply to both test-optional colleges and those that still require SAT or ACT scores.

Entitled “Standardized Testing in College Admissions: Profile of a Conscientious Objector,” the video begins Steve Syverson, Lawrence’s dean of admissions. Syverson explains that the school’s decision to go test-optional was driven in part by the fact that test-prep has become a $1 billion per year industry.  After Lawrence went test-optional, he added, even some students with very high test scores opted not to submit them as part of the admissions process because “they resonate so strongly with the attitude that these tests don’t represent who I am as a person.”

Enter Sylvie, a student at the Northwest School in Seattle. She made her decision to opt out of standardized tests after receiving notice that she would soon be “represented” by her test scores. “I don’t want that. I’m more than a number.” While she realizes that some universities might not consider her application without the scores, she is hoping to have conversations with admissions officers.  “I hope I’ve at least put the idea in their brain that there could be a ton of students out there who would say, ‘I don’t want to take this test. I don’t think this test is fair. I don’t think this test represents me or who I am.’”

Baldwin has calculated that she would have spent 50 to 60 hours preparing for the exams. She will invest that time instead in writing proposed legislation for the state of Washington that would require drivers ed courses to add a unit on the environmental impact of driving. She adds that her conscientious objector status has nothing to do with fear of not doing well on the SAT. “I don’t believe in (standardized tests). I don’t support this. And I’m one of those people that say if I don’t believe in this, I’m not going to do it.”

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.”