Test-Score Optional Growth Spurt

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, November 2013

The list of test-optional U.S. colleges and universities experienced another growth spurt this fall. Half a dozen more schools have recently dropped their admissions testing requirements. Brandeis University, Hood College, Lynn University, Regis College, Saint Joseph’s University, and the University of Wyoming join more than 800 other institutions that will consider all or many applicants without regard to standardized exam scores. In addition, Bard College, long a test-optional leader, added an “essay exam” as another path to admissions.

Brandeis, in Waltham, Massachusetts, labels its new policy a “test flexible” pilot. All students can apply without submitting ACT or SAT scores. Instead, they can supply results from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, SAT II subject tests or an enhanced portfolio of classwork. “Graded papers and academic recommendations can provide admissions committees with more insight than any set of tests,” explained Brandeis Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel. He continued, “[A]ggregated SAT and ACT scores, while efficient to use and popular in the media, are less effective in a highly competitive, holistic review process in gaining understanding of student potential.” The program will be evaluated after two years.

Hood College, a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Frederick, Maryland, echoed that argument. A news release announcing the new policy stated, “Understanding that standardized test scores may not be the best indication of an academically prepared student, Hood College offers the Test Optional Choice.” All applicants with a minimum high school grade point average of 3.25 qualify for the program.

Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, made a similar case. According to the school’s website, standardized tests “may not always reflect the true potential of all students. Lynn University welcomes motivated students who will commit to becoming an active participant in their education and who will thrive in a highly individualized environment.”

Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts, is now one of more than a dozen Boston-area schools that do not require standardized tests scores from its applicants. The school’s announcement said, “We recognize that for many students, high school grade-point averages are often a better indicator of academic ability and potential than standardized test scores.”

The new test-optional policy at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia will apply to all students seeking seats in the incoming class of 2014. “The change helps reaffirm our identity as a Catholic, Jesuit mission-driven institution by facilitating access to Saint Joseph’s University for groups of talented students who might not otherwise seek the opportunity,” said John Hailer, associate provost for enrollment management. He continued, “We know there is a population of students with strong academic records in high school who have standardized test score outcomes below our middle 50% range who are likely to be successful and difference makers.” The program will be evaluated after four years.

The University of Wyoming is offering applicants who do not meet the school’s test and GPA requirements for admission the option to submit an essay instead. The school’s new president, Robert Sternberg, a well-known scholar of multiple intelligences and former head of the American Psychological Association, launched the initiative. Sternberg explained the three main reasons for the change: “First, these traditional measures are not particularly good predictors of active-citizenship and ethical-leadership skills. . . Second, some students just don’t test particularly well. . . Third, using more assessments gives better prediction of success.” Sternberg implemented similar, essay-based options at Tufts and Oklahoma State.

According to the Bard College website, the school’s new “Entrance Examination” option “enables motivated students to gain admission through an essay test, engaging applicants in a process that more closely mirrors actual college coursework. The examination is composed of essay questions in three categories: Social Science, History, and Philosophy; Arts and Literature; and Science and Mathematics. Applicants are required to complete four of 21 questions with 2,500-word essays.” Students choosing this route are not subject to Bard’s normal review of high school course completion or GPA.

This fall’s additions boost the number of test-optional or test-flexible institutions ranked in the top tiers of their respective categories to more than 150 (list available on request from fairtest@fairtest.org).