Some Allowed to Sit Out the SAT

By Maria Glod and Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 25, 2006

Officials at George Mason University in Fairfax announced yesterday that the school will allow some high-achieving students to apply for admission without submitting SAT scores, joining a growing list of colleges that are moving away from requiring applicants to take the standardized test.

Admissions officials said high school students who rank in the top 20 percent of their class and have a grade-point average of 3.5 or better can apply without submitting SAT scores. Instead, the students will be required to submit two extra letters of recommendation from their teachers and will have to write an essay.

Andrew Flagel, George Mason's dean of admissions, said the university examined the performance of students who did well in high school and found that SAT scores were a poor predictor of how those students would fare at the university. He said officials worried that reliance on the test could unfairly exclude some talented students who are poor test-takers.

"We know that for our students, it's not telling us who's likely to succeed if the student already has a strong academic record," Flagel said. "If you know a score isn't telling you about the likelihood to succeed, using the score doesn't make sense."

George Mason's announcement comes as more colleges are reconsidering the merits of SAT scores as part of the admissions process. Standardized tests already are optional at many small liberal arts colleges, including Middlebury College in Vermont and Bowdoin College in Maine. This month, Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota announced that the test will not be required for admission.

But the SAT, a standardized test around which an industry of preparation classes and materials has been built, remains a requirement at most schools.

"We're likely to be one of the few large public institutions . . . that are implementing such a policy," Flagel said. "What Mason is doing isn't revolutionary, but we think it's the direction most institutions will go."

Bob Schaeffer, spokesman at FairTest, a nonprofit that opposes overemphasis on testing, said many colleges that have dropped the test as a requirement say reliance on one score can weed out talented students. Officials also worry that students who can afford test preparation classes have an unfair advantage.

Schaeffer said he thinks George Mason's approach, which focuses on high school grades, is a better measure. "It's like baseball: If you excel at one level, you get a chance at another level," he said. "It's a pure performance-based type of merit."

During a conference Tuesday of the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling in Parsippany, an information session on switching to an SAT-optional system drew a standing-room-only crowd. A Drew University admissions official said her president was so eager to make the test optional that he ordered the change in September, even though officials had recommended a year of study.

At George Mason, the new admissions policy will be in place for freshmen entering in fall 2007. Applications for 2007-08 will be available on the school's Web site July 5.

Students who are applying for some majors, including several engineering programs, cannot take advantage of the policy, nor can students who were home-schooled, university officials said.

Staff writer Susan Kinzie contributed to this report.

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