Test Optional Admissions Movement

University Testing

In the wake of the SAT scoring fiasco and growing questions about the value of standardized admissions exams, five more selective undergraduate institutions have moved toward test-score optional admissions. The new policies at Bennington College in Vermont, Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, George Mason University in Virginia and Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania go into effect with the class entering in 2007. Along with Chatham College in Pennsylvania, which eliminated its test score requirements late last fall, the decisions bring the total of schools on FairTest's list of bachelor-degree granting institutions which are ACT and SAT optional for substantial numbers of applicants to 736 (see the list here).

No fewer than 23 of the nation's top 101 liberal arts schools, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, are now ACT or SAT optional. All told, more than one quarter of all accredited four-year schools in the country do not mandate submission of standardized exam results before admissions decisions are made. Many more are currently evaluating their testing requirements, several with the assistance of FairTest, a process that has accelerated with each new revelation of flaws with the College Board's "new" SAT. FairTest's publication Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit serves as a guide to the admissions testing review process.

Test score submission will be optional for all applicants to Bennington, Gustavus Adolphus and Lebanon Valley. At George Mason, part of Virginia's public university system, no ACT or SAT scores will be required for students with high school grade point averages of 3.5 or better and who rank in the top 20% of their classes.

The schools which recently joined the test-score optional movement gave a similar explanation for the move. "Standardized tests only reveal verbal and mathematical aptitude within a very controlled environment, but Chatham also considers qualities like creativity, ingenuity, leadership or reasoning that better indicate a successful college student," explained the school's Vice President for Admissions Michael Poll. "We often see no correlation between SAT scores alone and academic success, so we wanted to establish a new policy that looks beyond verbal and math skills."

Bennington Dean of Admissions Ken Himmelman agreed, "[W]e haven't seen a sustained correlation between students' SAT scores and their performance at Bennington. Grades were a better indicator of what they'll do."

"We look for students who have prepared themselves for the rigorous challenges of the academic program at Gustavus. Test scores - low or high - are not always accurate in predicting a student's academic success," said the school's Vice President for Admission Mark Anderson.

Lebanon Valley Dean of Admission and Financial Aid William Brown, Jr. noted, "Classroom achievement as reflected in GPA (grade point average) and class rank, not standardized tests, provides the best predictor of academic success."

"Analysis of Mason's admissions and enrollment data demonstrate that the SAT is at best a weak predictor of incoming college students' performance for freshmen who have strong academic performance in high school," said Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions. "This policy change allows us to select the most academically qualified students from that rapidly growing pool."

Other colleges which have dropped admissions testing requirements have cited concerns such as the exams' race, income and gender biases, their inaccuracy, and their susceptibility to coaching.

Schools that dropped the ACT and SAT in the past year uniformly reported significant increases in students seeking to enroll. At the College of the Holy Cross, applications for the class entering this fall rose 41% from the previous year. Drew University in New Jersey recorded a record-breaking 4,400 applications, including a surge from members of minority groups, more than a 20% total increase. At Knox College in Illinois the numbers rose 18%.

Meanwhile, several major newspapers have printed opinion columns calling for a reassessment of college admissions tests. In an editorial titled "Downgrading the SAT" the Los Angeles Times wrote "It is time to consider whether the test has outlived its usefulness."

That position followed the paper's publication of an op. ed. column by Mount Holyoke College President Joanne Creighton arguing, "It seems self-evident that a one-size-fits-all test could not adequately assess the diverse populations of students and schools that make up the U.S. educational landscape." Mount Holyoke has been a leader in the test-score optional movement after conducting a five-year admissions experimentconcluding that the ACT and SAT are not necessary (see Examiner, Spring 2000).