Money & Business

Associations Weigh In on Test-Optional College Admissions Trend

By / Jul 31, 2015 (Alberto G./Flickr)

Are the SAT and ACT on the way out? A record number of colleges and universities dropped standardized test score requirements in the last year, as they look for other ways to evaluate applicants. Associations have weighed in on both sides of the movement.

For years, taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test or American College Testing exam—better known as the SAT and ACT—has been a rite of passage for college-bound students. High school juniors and seniors sign up for one or both exams, determine which they scored better on, and use those scores—combined with their GPA and high school resume—to try to make your case for admittance into a higher-education institution.

That’s still how the typical application process goes, but more and more, colleges and universities are opting for a test-optional approach when building their next freshman class. This week, George Washington University became the latest to join a list of more than 850 accredited, bachelor-degree-granting schools that no longer require all or many students to submit standardized test scores.

GWU explained the decision in a statement:

In developing this policy, it is our goal to create an approach that aligns with our admissions philosophy of holistic review, supports the university strategic plan on access, reflects the most current data analysis regarding the use of testing in admission, and is clear and easy to communicate and understand by prospective students, families and school counselors.

The policy doesn’t cover a handful of potential applicants, including homeschooled students and recruited NCAA Division I athletes. But the move comes at a time when the SAT—administered by the nonprofit College Board—is going through its second overhaul in less than a decade and K-12 education reform is partly focused on limiting the number of standardized tests students take.

So is this the beginning of the end for college entrance exams? It depends on who you ask.

A study released last year by the National Association for College Admission Counselling found virtually no difference in graduation rates for students who submit standardized test scores and those who don’t. That finding is crucial, the report said, for institutions looking to attract more diverse enrollees.

“For economic growth and social stability, America will need to find successful paths to higher education for hundreds of thousands of additional first-generation-to-college, minority, immigrant, rural, and LD (learning differences) students,” it said. “This study provides the research support for optional testing as at least one route by which that can happen.”

A separate study [PDF] published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and on behalf of the American Educational Research Association, offered a different view. Rather than benefitting the applicants, the study speculated that it hurt them because it was presumed students who didn’t submit test scores performed poorly. Meanwhile, the college or university saw a bump in its average SAT and ACT score—a statistic that would help in ranking systems like the U.S. News & World Report’s annual list.

“We went into the study thinking that we would absolutely find that some of these policies would make a difference in terms of bringing underrepresented students to campus,” Andrew Belasco, one of the study’s authors, told Inside HigherEd. “These policies, at the end of the day, do little to promote greater access.”

Officials with the College Board and ACT told The Washington Post that the test-optional movement wasn’t a major concern to them. “Test-optional schools are our members and our partners,” Jack Buckley, senior vice president for research at College Board, said. “We respect the decisions they make about their admissions processes and we will continue to listen to our members, evolve our programs, and work to expand access to opportunity for all students.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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