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Posts Tagged ‘test-optional’

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.

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.

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/.

Saint Rose Goes Test-Optional

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

The College of Saint Rose located in Albany, NY has announced its plans to begin implementing a test-optional admissions policy for the entering class of Fall 2013. The college, which ranked 39th among best regional (North) universities in U.S. News’ latest edition, said in its release that, “removing the test requirement, we let [students] know that their character, talent and individual achievements mean far more to us than numbers on a standardized test.” The college says that the policy will be a three-year pilot program, at which time the result will be evaluated and further determinations made.

For more information on the growing list of test-optional colleges and universities, visit www.fairtest.org/.

Ithaca College Goes Test-Optional

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

ic-crest-logo1This week, Ithaca College became the most recent addition to the ranks of test-optional colleges and universities, dropping standardized test submission as a requirement for admissions.  In its release, Ithaca pointed to the holistic nature of its admissions evaluations, as well as research performed on past applicants, among chief reasons for the announcement.  “From the coursework they choose, to the leadership positions they hold, and the many and varied talents that they bring, we want to develop a complete picture of every student. None of that is captured in a standardized test score,” notes Director of Admission Gerard Turbide.  Eager to reap the benefits of the new policy, IC is moving forward with plans to implement  for students applying for the 2013 entering class.

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.

Clark University Goes Test-Optional

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

clark-universityLast week, Clark University, a small liberal arts institution located in Worcester, MA, announced plans to join the list of almost 900 colleges and universities who are SAT/ACT optional. This new admissions policy, set to begin fall 2013, coincides with the implementation of another program at Clark – LEEP – which looks to transform the learning experience for students toward developing lifelong personal and professional enhancement skills. This article details the admissions staffs’ reasoning behind the decision.

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.”

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.