Texas Report Shows “Test-Optional” Admission Works

K-12 Testing

A new University of Texas (UT) Austin report demonstrates that “test-score optional” admissions policies can work at large, public universities. The report shows that test-score optional policies have partially restored the damage to African American and Latino enrollment caused by ending affirmative action under the Hopwood court decision, while also continuing to maintain a high level of academic quality.

As the nation’s largest single campus, UT Austin receives approximately 19,000 freshman applications each year and enrolls 7,400 new students. Under the “Texas Top 10% Automatic Admissions Law,” students graduating in the top 10% of their high school class are guaranteed admission at any public college or university regardless of SAT I or ACT scores (see Examiner, Summer 1998, Summer 1999, Winter 2000-01). One-half of all freshmen have entered UT Austin under top 10% eligibility since the policy was adopted in 1997. For the remainder of applicants, test scores are only one of eighteen criteria and are considered in relation to a student’s socio-economic background. According to the Task Force, “Test scores play a limited role in the admissions process: they make up about one half of the prediction formulas that make up one half of the matrix used to admit about one half of the entering freshmen.”

Among the Task Force findings:
• During 1996-2000, the average freshman GPA increased for students university-wide, simultaneous with greater levels of ethnic/racial diversity.
• Students admitted under top 10% and non-top 10% policies required remedial resources at comparable rates.
• At every SAT/ACT score interval, top 10% students exceeded the college academic performance level of non-top 10% students. Top 10% students perform as well as non-top 10% students with SAT I scores 200-300 points higher.
• High school class rank was a better predictor of college performance than test scores, forecasting 17.6 percent of differences in first-year grades at UT Austin, compared with only 10 to 14 percent for SAT I and ACT scores. The ability of test scores to predict the performance of African American and Latino students was particularly weak.

Enrollments for African Americans and Latinos had dropped from 18.6 percent of the freshman class in 1996 to 14.6 percent in 1997, the first year the effects of Hopwood were felt. By 2001, those figures had rebounded somewhat. Freshmen enrollment for African Americans rose from 2.5 percent in 1997 to 3.2 percent in 2001, while Latinos increased their representation from 12.1 to 13.1 percent during the same time period.

The Task Force also considered whether UT Austin should require the SAT II: Subject Tests. Data collected from students at UT Austin who took these exams showed only a marginal difference in predictive power between the SAT II and the SAT I/ACT. Therefore, the report concluded that inclusion of one or more SAT IIs would make little difference: “[F]or purposes of admissions, there is no evidence of any meaningful difference between achievement and aptitude testing…”

Contrary to popular notions that test scores measure “merit” or intangible intellectual qualities, UT Austin and other “test-score optional” institutions rely on the wealth of other information available to admissions offices. Using a test score/GPA index “crutch” may seem like an efficient and low-cost way for large universities to process the thousands of applications they receive, but such methods are neither necessary nor effective in promoting racial diversity and academic quality.

The Texas “Top 10% Law” is not perfect. It cannot completely substitute for affirmative action or a test score optional policy for all applicants. But it has helped partially restore racial diversity and enhanced educational quality.

• To read a more in-depth article on the new report, click here.

• The full report “A Review of the Use of Standardized Test Scores in the Undergraduate Admissions Process at the University of Texas at Austin” can be read at: http://www.utexas.edu/student/research/reports/admissions/TxTestingTaskForce2001.pdf