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Posts Tagged ‘test-optional’

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.”

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.

New SAT Scores Reflect Growing Disparities

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

New figures released this week by the College Board  showed that overall SAT scores remained essentially unchanged from last year. But a closer look reveals growing racial, ethnic and income gaps that have some observers worried. 
After gaining 13 points this year across all three parts of the SAT, Asian Americans now outscore African Americans by 163 points on math, 90 points on reading and 106 points on writing, according to Inside Higher Education. In addition, the 2010 scores showed a correlation between SAT scores and family income. Simply put, those with higher family incomes scored higher on all three parts of the SAT than their lower-income counterparts. Higher levels of parental education also were associated with higher scores.
The growing disparities did not go unnoticed by critics of standardized testing. FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, released a statement saying that the test scores show education reform is not leading to more equity as proponents claim. “Fortunately, more and more colleges have recognized the folly of fixating on the narrow, often biased, information provided by standardized tests and moved toward test-optional admissions,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test.
FairTest, which maintains a database of test-optional schools, says the number of colleges and universities that make SAT or ACT scores optional for applicants now stands at more than 840.

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.”

New Research Finds Racial Bias in SAT

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

SATAs research has repeatedly raised questions about the fairness of the SAT, more and more universities have opted to make the standardized test optional for applicants. Concerns that the SAT may be racially biased increased this week with the release of a new study that shows the test’s verbal section is unfair to African American test-takers.

The paper, published in the Harvard Educational Review, replicated a 2003 study by Roy Freedle, and confirmed earlier findings of racial bias in the SAT. The research was based on data for students who took the SAT and later enrolled in the University of California system.

“Although our findings limit the phenomenon observed to the verbal test and the African American subgroup, these findings are important because they show that the SAT, a high-stakes test with significant consequences for the educational opportunities available to young people in the United States, favors one ethnic group over another,” write the study’s co-authors, Maria Santelices, assistant professor of education at the Catholic University of Chile, and Mark Wilson, professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley.

“The confirmation of unfair test results throws into question the validity of the test and, consequently, all decisions based on its results,” the study says. “All admissions decisions based exclusively or predominantly on SAT performance — and therefore access to higher education institutions and subsequent job placement and professional success — appear to be biased against the African American minority group and could be exposed to legal challenge.”

The authors’ views were echoed by Robert Schaeffer, of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, who described the new research as “a bombshell.” Schaeffer told Inside Higher Education that the study “presents a profound challenge to institutions which still rely heavily on the SAT to determine undergraduate admissions or scholarship awards.”

The College Board, however, challenged the study’s findings and defended the fairness of the test. “There certainly are subgroup differences in scores,” Kathleen Fineout Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, told Inside Higher Education. “We recognize that and acknowledge it. It’s a reflection of educational inequity. It’s something we are concerned with.”

Test-Optional Movement Picks Up Steam

Friday, May 28th, 2010

As two New Hampshire schools join the growing list of colleges and universities to make the SAT and ACT tests optional for applicants, they are being applauded for their foresight. Both St. Anselm College and Southern New Hampshire University announced their decision to go test-optional this month. “The national movement among schools to place more emphasis on a student’s academic and extracurricular contributions in high school and less on standardized tests is a welcome trend in education,” wrote the Nashua Telegraph,  in an editorial. In explaining the Saint Anselm decision, the dean of admission said it was based on empirical evidience. “Six years of data show that, at Saint Anselm, the best predictor of academic success is a record of academic achievement in rigorous high school coursework,” Nancy Davis Griffin said in a statement . “By becoming test optional, we hope to reach qualified students who may not have considered Saint Anselm.” At Southern New Hampshire University, the president said the decision is in keeping with the school’s philosophy. “We have built an admissions process around knowing students personally and holistically. Standardized tests offer one vantage point and we’re happy to add the results into the mix, but we know so much more about a student by the time we accept or deny, including their academic abilities, that not having the test scores means very little,” said SNHU President Paul LeBlanc. FairTest, a Boston-based group, is among those praising the trend after conducting research on colleges and universities that have gone test-optional. In its report on the issue, the group said: “The successful experience of schools included in these case studies, and those of the hundreds of other institutions that have de-emphasized standardized tests in admissions, make it abundantly clear that there is ‘life after the SAT’ (or ACT).”

The SAT Question: No — Subjectivity eclipses objectivity

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

This opinion piece by Jill Tiefenthaler, Wake Forest’s provost and professor of economics, first appeared in the Greensboro News & Record.


There are no objective inputs to the college admissions process. We crave clear tests that offer a fair chance to prove merit. The SAT was conceived for this purpose, but that objectivity has eroded.

We want to believe that, irrespective of our different backgrounds or experiences in life, we are judged based on our work ethic and achievements. At Wake Forest University, this premise has been woven into the fabric of our institution since its founding. We have always sought to provide opportunities to those willing to earn them, without regard to advantages in life or the lack thereof. In order to preserve this important heritage, we have taken a bold stand to acknowledge the absence of objectivity in college admissions and redirect emphasis to the subjective measures that work.

The race for spots at the most competitive national colleges and universities has reached a fever pitch, and families have responded by trying to maximize every input. Standardized test scores provide a great example. These scores generally improve with guidance and repetition, and so the tests have encouraged an industry of test training that takes advantage of the ambitions of students and their families. Test preparation courses have become commonplace, and students take tests over and over to improve their scores. At the extreme, consultants whose fees reach tens of thousands of dollars contribute to an escalating craze.

The goal of evaluating standardized test scores and measures like GPA is to find the applicants with the brightest minds who are motivated to excel and offer meaningful contributions to the learning of their peers. Admissions professionals try to determine which students will be academically successful and make important contributions to the learning community. There is some correlation between standardized test scores and first-year college grades, but high school grades — even with the differences in curriculum across schools — are by far the best predictors of college success. When a predictive model accounts for high school grades, adding in standardized test scores does not significantly improve the accuracy of the model. In fact, the SAT is correlated more closely with socioeconomic background than with college success. More