Bates College profile taken from Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit:
"If I had had to choose between making tests optional and losing 1000 applications it would have been tough. But when you gain 1000 applications? There's no downside. "1 - William Hiss, current Vice President and former Director of Admissions at Bates
Bates College allows for the most detailed case study because of the thorough, step-by-step process undertaken by staff, faculty and administration in gradually changing Bates' test requirements. Concerns about diversity, the effects of coaching and the impact of the SAT on secondary education and students all had roles in leading Bates to begin conducting research about its admissions policies in the late 1970s, then move to make the SAT I optional in 1984, and, finally, to make all tests optional for admission in 1990.
The admissions office of Bates began considering dropping the SAT in 1979 and conducted a series of studies assessing the likely results of such a move. One study, for example, found that students' evaluations of their "energy and initiative" in high school added more to the ability to predict performance at Bates than did either Verbal or Math SAT scores.2 In general, the research concluded that "adding self-evaluations improves the prediction formula markedly," demonstrating the importance of such characteristics as "energy and initiative" and "motivation" in academic success. Another study showed that SAT scores were not helpful in predicting which students would later drop out for academic reasons.
In October of 1984, the faculty voted by a margin of two to one to make SAT scores optional for admission while still requiring scores from three College Board Achievement Tests or the ACT. Bates President Thomas Hedley called the move "... a bold step by the faculty, reflecting deep concern with the effectiveness of the SATs."3 Bates, founded in 1855 by abolitionists, was the first coeducational institution in the East, and seeks to remain true to its history of "commitment to social justice, civil rights, and respect for the individual."4
Thus, the decision to change its admissions requirements in 1984 was spurred by concerns that the SAT was restricting the applicant pool Bates wished to attract and having a harmful effect on students.
First, the faculty was concerned that the SAT may not "present a true picture of the academic potential" of an applicant.5 Second, many students "mistakenly assume that the tests are a major part of the application and select colleges on the basis of the median test scores."6 Bill Hiss explained,
"Bates' reasonably high average SAT scores were scaring many good students off. More families than we would like use average SAT scores published in guidebooks to decide if Bates is an appropriate institution for their children, and falsely conclude either that Bates is too difficult academically or that their sons or daughters could not be admitted. "7
Third, the faculty felt that the close correlation between the SAT and family income disadvantaged some students.8 Therefore, "The faculty wanted to offer a clear public gesture to encourage applicants from students in groups least likely to have the SATs operating in their favor: minority students, first-generation immigrants, bilingual students, and rural or blue-collar students."9
And finally, faculty members were concerned that rampant test coaching meant that the energies of high school teachers and students were being misdirected and that the high school curriculum might be affected.10
At the end of five years of the SAT-optional policy in 1990, faculty members conducted a careful study of the academic performance of the five classes that entered Bates between 1985 and 1989. The research committee looked at a variety of measures, including verbal and math SAT, total SAT, Achievement (now called SAT II) Tests and cumulative grade point average. The SAT-I scores had been collected after enrollment for research purposes only. According to the study, tests add little predictive value to the high school record:
"[N]either SATs nor Achievements seem to predict GPA [grade-point average] with great strength. The verbal and math SAT together accounted for 9.6 percent of the variation in grades, while the Achievement tests accounted for 12.2 percent of the variation. When SATs and Achievements were combined in a multiple regression analysis, they together accounted for only 13.6 percent of variation in cumulative GPA. "11
In comparing five years of enrollees who submitted SAT scores with those who didn't, Bates found that while "non-submitters" averaged 160 points lower on the SAT, their freshman grade point average - which is what SAT scores are supposed to predict - was only five one-hundredths of a point lower than that of "submitters."12
The academic survival rate of non-submitters was found to be nearly flawless and better than that of submitters: in five years only one of the 14 students dismissed from Bates for academic reasons was an SAT non-submitter: 93% of those dismissed were SAT submitters. Those who didn't submit their SAT scores had an academic survival rate of 99.8%. Hiss states, "These results seem to us, to put it mildly, very good. "13
Though applications had declined at most colleges due to demographic patterns and families' financial considerations, applications at Bates increased by more than a third in the first five years of the SAT optional policy. The number of applicants increased from 2,551 to 3,394 for a class of 400.
Bates also found that recruiting students from groups particularly targeted by its mission was significantly easier with the SAT-optional policy. Applications and enrollments of minority students more than doubled in the five years of SAT optional, with these students electing to withhold scores at a significantly higher rate (41%) than the class as a whole (22%). Applications from international students also more than doubled during this time, and Bates is now enrolling more older students.14
Thus, in the fall of 1990, the faculty voted to make standardized tests completely optional for admission. The faculty vote was virtually unanimous: 84 to 1.15 "Riding as it did a nationwide wave of concern about standardized testing, the Bates decision has become a national test case."16 According to then-Admissions Director Bill Hiss, the faculty was also given the alternative of voting to require students to submit any test scores (SAT, ACT or Achievements), but the faculty felt no need to opt for this approach.17
Bates current admissions process uses factors other than test scores, such as high school record, essays, recommendations, personal interviews and student interests, in evaluating students.18 In particular, the Bates staff values the personal interview: "...[T]he College remains committed to the personal interview as part of its evaluation, and Bates is bucking a noticeable trend at other similar colleges away from doing personal interviews."19
The percentage of students choosing the non-submission option has remained fairly constant over the years, totaling about 28% of all applicants. The non-submitters are admitted at a lower rate than submitters, about 19%, compared to 30-35% for all students, but enroll at a 4-5% higher rate than submitters. So Bates' freshman class is typically comprised of 25% non-submitters.
In the first two years of the "all tests optional" policy, just as in the earlier, SAT-optional version of the policy, a higher number of women, "Mainers" - who tend to be blue collar applicants from rural areas - and minority students opted not to submit test scores. Bates admissions staff members have also found that some applicants with very high test scores don't submit them for philosophical reasons.20
In retrospect, Bill Hiss explained, when people at Bates started to look at their testing policy, three things were all moving in the same direction: first, they weren't convinced that tests were highly predictive - in particular tests were predicting failure for some minority and English-as-a-second language students who turned out to be really brilliant. Second was the ethical question of whether test requirements were scaring away the very applicants Bates said it wanted. And third was a marketing issue: you can't convince a high school student to attend your school if he or she has been scared off by high average SAT scores and has decided not to apply.21
Bates' experience demonstrates clearly that even very selective schools don't need the SAT-or any test score-in order to choose their entering freshman classes. At Bates, many non-submitters who turned out to be fine students might never have been admitted - or would have been discouraged from applying - without the SAT optional policy. In a 1997 interview, Hiss told U.S. News & World Report that for about a quarter to a third of Bates students, the SAT is:
"not predictive and, in some cases, is what a statistician would call a false negative. That is, in fact the test seems to suggest the student cannot do good work when in fact they can. They come to Bates, they make the dean's list, they graduate Phi Beta Kappa, having come with modest SATs."22
1 William Hiss, telephone interview, March 24, 1992.
2 William Hiss, Elizabeth Woodcock and Alice McGrath, "(At Least) 20 Questions: Academic Criteria, Personal Qualities and College Admissions," in The Journal of College Admissions, Summer 1984, p. 12.
3 "SATs Made Optional for Admission," Bates Update, November, 1984, p. 1.
7 Hiss (1990), p. 15.
8 Bates Update, p. 1.
9 William Hiss, "Optional SATs: The First Two Years at Bates College," in Measures in the College Admissions Process: A College Board Colloquium, New York, College Entrance Examination Board, 1986, p. 12.
10 Bates Update, p. 1.
11 Hiss (1990), p. 17.
15 "A School Rejects Requiring Tests for Applicants," New York Times, November 18, 1990, A17.
16 Hiss (1990), p. 17.
17 Hiss, telephone interview, November 19, 1990.
18 New York Times, Nov. 18, 1990.
19 Hiss (1990) p. 17.
20 Hiss, telephone interview, March 24, 1992.
21 Hiss interview, 1992.
22 "Interview With William Hiss," U.S. News and World Report Online, 1998 College Rankings, http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/cobates.htm.
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