Test-Optional Lists Grows Rapidly

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, July 2009

Four more colleges joined the rapidly accelerating ACT/SAT-optional movement this spring. Another replaced a mandate for submission of some scores with a pure test-optional policy. Three others announced “test flexible” policies. The new rules increase the number of accredited, bachelor-degree granting institutions which do not require all or many applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores before admissions decisions are made to more than 820 (http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional).

Sewanee, also known as the University of the South, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Tennessee. Announcing that applicants will no longer have to take the ACT or SAT, Dean of Admission David Lesesne explained, “I think educators have given standardized tests more power than they actually possess. There is ample evidence suggesting that means other than standardized tests can be useful in predicting college success.” Dean Lesesne stressed that school leaders “believe that making the SAT and ACT optional will create greater access to students from an array of socio-economic and ethnic background.” Sewanee’s Faculty Admissions Committee is setting up a process to interview all applicants. Those who choose not to send in test scores will be required to submit a sample of high quality academic work graded by one of their teaches.

Loyola College in Maryland will also become test-optional. It joins a number of highly competitive Catholic institutions which have adopted such policies. “Loyola’s Jesuit tradition inspires us to evaluate the whole person when considering the application of prospective students,” said Rev. Brian F. Linnane, the school’s president. “High standardized test scores, while a laudable accomplishment, tell you far less about a person’s talents and potential to succeed in college than course selection, grades earned, personal statements, and extracurricular involvement and achievement. We believe this approach will allow us to become a more inclusive university.” The school’s name will change to Loyola University Maryland later this summer.

Fairfield University, another Catholic school, will not require test scores from students who submit an essay related to its mission and strategic vision. Fairfield President Jeffrey von Arx outlined the rationale: “Central to our strategic vision is that we make a Fairfield education available to as many talented students as possible, that we consistently work to broaden the socio-economic, cultural, racial and ethnic diversity of our student body, and that we take the whole person into account, as is consistent with our Jesuit and Catholic mission and identity. . . By making SAT scores optional we are bringing our admission procedures more consistently into line with our strategic vision.” Von Arx noted that test scores are shaped by family income, courses offered at a particular high school, and access to test coaching, all factors that are outside an applicant’s control.

After a year-long faculty study, Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, decided to offer applicants the option of not submitting test scores. Vice President for Enrollment Management Barbara Lundberg observed, “We are seeking students who day in and day out work hard in the classroom and have demonstrated the desire to be part of a challenging academic community. We believe that many students who simply do not test well may not have included Illinois College in their initial set of colleges to consider. The new, test-optional approach will reach out to those students.” Ms. Lundberg concluded, “The new policy is consistent with Illinois College’s efforts to attract and retain a student population rich in diversity and intellectual curiosity.”

New York University (NYU) in Manhattan, Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and Colby College in Maine each announced revised admissions requirements. All will now give applicants a choice of which test scores to submit. NYU offers five alternatives, including sending three SAT Subject Test or three AP scores. Bryn Mawr announced a similar “test flexible” plan, while Colby limits the options to the ACT, SAT or three SAT Subject Tests.

Meanwhile, Connecticut College, which for the past 15 years has followed a policy like the one Colby just adopted, dropped all testing mandates. A Connecticut College news release stated, “The decision is based on industry research that shows standardized tests are biased toward affluent students and can become a barrier to higher education for disadvantaged students, as well as the college’s own research, which has found that the tests are not a reliable indicator of future success in college.”

Whichever way colleges and universities reconfigure their standardized exam requirements, students have more choices and feel less pressure to play the test-taking and coaching game. At the same time, schools offering admissions test options consistently see an increase in both the diversity and academic quality of their entering classes. These positive results are demonstrated by case studies in FairTest’s report, Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit: Enhancing Equity & Excellence in College Admissions by Deemphasizing SAT and ACT Results (http://www.fairtest.org/test-scores-do-not-equal-merit-executive-summary).