Test-Optional Movement Continues to Accelerate

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, July 2008

Four more selective, bachelor-degree granting institutions led by Smith College and Wake Forest University dropped admissions testing requirements this spring. The new policies bring the total number of test-optional schools to 760 (http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional)

Wake Forest gained the most media attention because it is the highest ranked national university so far to eliminate ACT and SAT admissions exam mandates, joining many selective liberal arts colleges which have adopted similar policies. The Wake Forest decision was based on thorough research; a web page http://www.wfu.edu/wowf/2008/sat-act/ provides a detailed explanation. Director of Admissions Martha Allman explained, “By making the SAT and ACT optional, we hope to broaden the applicant pool and increase access at Wake Forest for groups of students who are currently underrepresented at selective universities.” She continued, “Removing the test requirement will demonstrate emphatically that we value individual academic achievement and initiative as well as talent and character above standardized testing.”

Heavily quoted in coverage of the Wake Forest policy change was faculty member Joseph Soares, Associate Professor or Sociology. Soares’ book, The Power of Privilege: Yale and America’s Elite Colleges, demonstrates how reliance on test scores is a de facto reverse affirmative action policy. Referring to the SAT, Soares said “It’s a rotten predictor of college grades. It’s a very reliable predictor of family income. If you are picking students from the higher end of the SAT bell curve, you are overwhelmingly picking students from economically privileged backgrounds.”

Smith’s announcement even more explicitly noted concerns about test bias. A college news release cited “evidence of correlations between race, household income and test performance, along with the recognition that SATs may not be the best predictor of academic potential” as prompting the decision. For nearly a decade, Smith has downplayed the important of test scores in its admissions process. “At Smith, we take a holistic and individual approach to each application,” said Audrey Y. Smith, dean of enrollment, “looking at every applicant in the context of the opportunities she’s had available to her and what she has made of them. We are looking for women of talent, intelligence and promise and we’re confident in our ability to find them.”

Baldwin-Wallace College, a selective liberal arts school in Berea, Ohio rated among the best in the Midwest, also adopted a test-optional policy as a five-year pilot program. “This action really gives prospective students the opportunity to choose these materials that best showcase their individual strengths and preparation for college work,” explained Baldwin-Wallace President Richard Durst. Susan Dileno, vice president for enrollment management, added “We know that many students from disadvantaged backgrounds self-select themselves out of the admissions process because they believe that their test scores are not competitive with those reported in the profiles of the first-year class. By making reports of standardized tests optional, we can cast a broader net for prospective students.”

The final addition to the optional list is Marlboro College in Vermont. “Marlboro’s academic program offers students the opportunity to develop their own interests,” said Dean of Faculty Felicity Ratté. “We’re looking for independent-minded students who are ready to take advantage of that opportunity. Standardized tests don’t really help us identify those students. Nor do they help those students identify us.” She continued, “We need and want students who bring a variety of skills to our self-governing community and we believe those skills are assessed and evidenced in a number of different ways.”

FairTest’s popular test-optional list (http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional) now includes 760 accredited, bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities which admit all or many members of their first year classes without regard to ACT or SAT test scores.