"SAT/ACT Optional" Admissions Enhances Equity and Excellence At Growing Number of U.S. Colleges

for further information:
Charles Rooney (857) 350-8207
eves. Bob Schaeffer (941) 395-6773


for use after 12:00am, October 7, 1998


More than 280 colleges across the U.S. now admit some or all of their applicants without regard to SAT or ACT scores, and many say the policy has increased both the diversity and the academic quality of their entering classes, according to a study released today. The report, "Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit: Enhancing Equity & Excellence in College Admissions By Deemphasizing SAT and ACT Results", was produced by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

The report focuses on "lessons learned" at schools which have deemphasized test scores. Detailed case studies present the experiences of three highly selective colleges, Bates, Muhlenberg, and Franklin & Marshall, as well as the large Texas public university and California State University systems. Test scores submission is optional for all applicants at Bates and Muhlenberg. The other profiled institutions do not consider SAT or ACT results from students who meet either grade point average or class rank criteria. At the University of Texas, for example, all in-state students from the top ten percent of their high school classes are automatically accepted.

"Colleges that have deemphasized standardized admissions tests have found that these reforms promote both equity and excellence," explained the study's lead author, FairTest Assistant Director Charles Rooney. "Applicant pools have become more diverse without any loss in academic quality because a focus on test scores deters many otherwise qualified minority, low-income and female students." Among the other "lessons learned" reported by admissions officials:


  • High school performance is the best available method for screening applicants;
  • Tests add little useful information to the high school record;
  • Moving away from reliance on admissions tests promotes sounder educational practices in high schools by downgrading the value of multiple-choice exam preparation; and
  • Other colleges considering admissions reforms can learn from the experiences of the colleges profiled in the report.

"The five case studies are models for hundreds of other colleges across the nation," added FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer, a coauthor of the new report. "They show how a college can elevate its standards by reducing reliance on test scores."

"Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit" includes a step-by-step guide for schools seeking to restructure their admissions requirements. The process begins with an "audit" of current test score use, followed by an analysis of the impact of these policies on the institution's mission and goals. Questions a college should consider include:


  • Do tests have meaningful predictive validity for significant educational outcomes, such as graduation rates, at that particular institution?
  • Does that validity hold for all ethnic, age and income groups, as well as for men and women?
  • Do the tests add anything of significance to what admissions officers already know about applicants?
  • Are current test score requirements deterring potential applicants who would make successful students, particularly those from underrepresented groups?

Copies of "Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit" are available for $12.00 postpaid from FairTest, 15 Court Square, Suite 820, Boston, MA 02108. An executive summary of the report, a list of schools where test scores are not required for some or all applicants, and quotations on new admissions policies from college leaders (see below) are available.

Purchase this and other publications from FairTest's catalogue.

- - 3 0 - -



from "Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit"


"[Th]e use of standardized tests unduly limits admissions [and] . . . has had a chilling effect on the motivations and aspirations of underserved populations."
- Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board: Advisory Committee on Criteria for Diversity, "Second Status Report"

". . . we're deeply concerned essentially that the SAT is used to cull students, not to give them the opportunity to come to the University of California, which, by the way was the original intent of the SAT . . ."
- Eugene Garcia, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Berkeley

SAT underprediction "arguably leads to the exclusion of 12,000 women from large, competitive 'flagship' state universities."
- David Leonard, former Chair of the University of California Berkeley Faculty Committee on Admissions, and Jiming Jiang. "Gender Bias and the College Predictions of the SATs: A Cry of Despair." Accepted for publication in "Research in Higher Education", June 1999.

"The message we should be sending to high schools is that admissions offices at selective colleges are capable of making informed decisions without relying heavily or at all on the Educational Testing Service, not that we want them to design their courses to what can be tested by multiple-choice exams."
- William Mason, former Director of Admissions, Bowdoin College

"We think [test] coaching distracts a student at precisely the critical moment when young people need to build up confidence and personal steam for critical thinking, effective writing and developing strong analytical skills."
- William Hiss, "Optional SATs: Six Years Later", "Bates: The Alumni Magazine", September, 1990

"Our hope is that the decision to move to a test-optional admissions policy will give some of the power back to students in the college admissions process. This decision gives students a larger say in how to present themselves, what constitutes their strongest portfolio of credentials, etc."
- "Questions and Answers About Muhlenberg's Test-Optional Policy," Muhlenberg College

"If you're wincing because you see a modest SAT score, then you're not being fair to a candidate who should be evaluated on other factors. What this decision does is take the wincing out of the process."
- Peter Van Buskirk, Director of Admissions, Franklin & Marshall

"We've raised standards without raising test scores by focusing on core curriculum and HSGPA (high school grade-point average) minimum."
- Keith Polakoff, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, California State University, Long Beach