After national controversy, the College Board backtracked on its plan to introduce adversity scores to its SAT score reports. The Board now plans to provide admissions officers with socio-economic data and let them interpret the data to make admissions decisions.
“I learned a lot,” College Board CEO David Coleman told Fox News, “I learned a lot about what America trusts us to do. And what America trusts us to do is to score achievement—to give you a sense of what you’ve achieved and we want to do that better and better.”
But does the College Board deserve that level of trust? A growing number of colleges and universities suggest not. By some measures, more than 1,000 accredited colleges and universities have stopped requiring SAT/ACT scores or de-emphasize the use of these scores in admissions decisions.
Many of these “test-optional” schools are small liberal arts institutions, but a growing number are well-ranked. The University of Rochester, for example, ranks 33rd among national universities, according to US News & World Report. The school cut its requirement for SAT/ACT scores earlier this year. Last year, the University of Chicago, ranked 3rd among national universities, did the same.
“We were sending a message to students, with our own requirements, that one test basically identifies you,” said Jim Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at the University of Chicago. “Despite the fact that we would say testing is only one piece of the application, that’s the first thing a college asks you. We wanted to really take a look at all our requirements and make sure they were fair to every group, that everybody, anybody could aspire to a place like UChicago.”
These schools may be on to something.
A 2018 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling examined 28 schools with test-optional admissions policies. The study found that these policies appear to open the door to higher education for some students. For example, the study discovered that first-generation-to-college, traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and students from weak socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to apply without sharing test scores.
But while test-optional policies expanded applicant pools, they didn’t reduce performance, the study found. Researchers discovered that students who did not submit test scores were admitted at lower rates than those who did, but they were more likely to enroll and graduated at rates equivalent to or even marginally higher than their peers.
Bates College in Maine made SATs optional in 1984 and made all admissions tests optional in 1990. The school examined the results of its decision 20 years later and found that the school has almost doubled its applicant pool since establishing a test-optional policy, but student performance remained virtually unchanged. The difference in graduation rates between those who submitted test scores and those who did not was 0.1 percent, the difference in GPAs was 0.5 points, and students were equally represented in careers that did not require further standardized testing—including business executive officer roles and finance careers.
A possible reason for the success of test-optional policies is the power that other academic factors have in predicting student collegiate performance. The National Association for College Admission Counseling study for example found that high school GPA had a stronger correlation to college cumulative GPA and graduation rate for students who didn’t submit standardized test scores, than the scores did for students who submitted them.
Another study by Education Northwest found that high school GPA is a stronger predictor of performance in college-level English and math than were standardized test scores for students at the University of Alaska. A companion study confirmed that this trend holds true for students from urban and rural areas alike. But admissions counselors can miss qualified students when they focus on test scores.
“Without the scores, every other detail of the student’s application became more vivid,” wrote Jonathan Lash, President of Hampshire College a year after the school implemented a test-optional policy. “Students’ academic record over four years, letters of recommendation, essays, in-person interviews, and the optional creative supplements gave us a more complete portrait than we had seen before. Applicants gave more attention to their applications including the optional components, putting us in a much better position to predict their likelihood of success.”
If these elements of student admissions applications aren’t enough for admissions counselors, alternative tests offer unique insights into certain aspects of student preparedness. The Classical Learning Test, for example, evaluates reason, logic, and reading and Imbellus evaluates critical thinking and decision-making ability.
The College Board did away with adversity scores so that colleges and universities could make better admissions decisions. Perhaps it’s time for more schools to consider doing the same with the SAT.
Catalyst articles by Kristiana Bolzman