And the nine-campus University of California system is studying whether to continue using test scores in admissions and, if so, which exams. Famously, a 2001 proposal by then-UC President Richard C. Atkinson to stop using the SAT for admissions spurred the College Board, which owns the test, to add an essay component in 2005 (although it was later dropped as an admissions requirement by many schools after it failed to produce the results they hoped for).
It may not quite have reached a tipping point, but the admissions world is clearly grappling with the use of standardized tests in admissions.
Research has consistently shown that ACT and SAT scores are strongly linked to family income, mother’s education level and race. The College Board and ACT Inc., which owns the ACT, say their tests are predictive of college success, but (as with many education issues) there is also research showing otherwise.
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit known as FairTest, just analyzed SAT scores for the high school class of 2019. It reported that the gaps between demographic groups grew larger from a year earlier, with the average scores of students from historically disenfranchised groups falling further behind students from more privileged families.
The issue of elitism in college admissions was underscored this year by Operation Varsity Blues, a federal investigation into admissions fraud that resulted in the indictments of dozens of people, including wealthy parents and college coaches caught in schemes to create false records to secure admission to top schools. Actress Felicity Huffman is among the better-known defendants; she is serving two weeks in jail after pleading guilty to paying $15,000 for her daughter’s SAT score to be falsified.
Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, which opposes the misuse of standardized tests, said the past year has seen the “fastest growth spurt ever” of schools ending the SAT/ACT test score as an admission requirement. Over the summer, more than one school a week announced the change.
Nearly 50 accredited colleges and universities that award bachelor’s degrees announced from September 2018 to September 2019 that they were dropping the admissions requirement for an SAT or ACT score, FairTest said. That brings the number of accredited schools to have done so to 1,050 — about 40 percent of the total, the nonprofit said.
While the test-optional list has some schools with specific missions — there are religious colleges, music and art conservatories, nursing schools — it also includes more than half of the top 100 liberal arts colleges on the U.S. News & World Report list, FairTest said.
Also on the list are the majority of colleges and universities in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the six New England states.
More than 360 schools that give students the option of submitting test scores or are test-flexible — allowing applicants to choose the scores they provide and not requiring they be SAT or ACT — are in the first tiers of their U.S. News categories.
Test-optional schools include the University of Chicago, Brandeis University, the University of Rochester, Wake Forest University and Wesleyan University. Bates, Bowdoin, Colorado, Dickinson, Emerson and Pitzer colleges also don’t require test scores.
Some schools that have dropped the SAT/ACT admissions requirement said they did it to attract a more diverse group of applicants, and they have reported that those efforts were successful.
The University of Chicago, which abandoned the requirement last year, reported in July that its decision, along with an increase in financial aid and outreach, led to a 20 percent increase in first-generation, low-income and rural students and veterans to commit to the school.
Wake Forest was among the first to go test-optional, starting in 2009. It reports on its website that ethnic diversity among undergraduates increased 90 percent from 2008, the final year in which scores were required, to fall 2017 — and there has been no difference in academic achievement between those who submitted scores and those who did not.
In a Brown news release, Graduate School Dean Andrew G. Campbell said increasing evidence shows the GRE is not always an accurate predictor of success in school, and that he expects the move will allow the talent pool of applicants to broaden.
Brown’s move followed Princeton University, which said in August that 14 graduate programs had decided to eliminate the GRE requirement for admissions, including molecular biology, psychology and neuroscience. A news release said Princeton, too, expects to attract a wider range of applicants.
As you might imagine, the College Board, ACT and Educational Testing Service (ETS), all nonprofits that operate as businesses, are not the slightest bit amused by the decisions of schools not to mandate their products.
David G. Payne, vice president and chief operating officer of the Global Higher Education Division of ETS, said in a statement: “Dropping the GRE score requirement is a mistake. The argument that meeting diversity and completion goals can be done with less information than admissions faculty and committees already have is flawed."
ACT spokesman Ed Colby said in an email: “ACT scores are the only admission decision factor that provide a common, standardized metric allowing colleges to compare students from different schools, states and countries on a level playing field. No other factor used in admission decisions can do that.”
He also took issue with the notion that dropping the test requirement has led to more diverse freshman classes, saying, “The literature suggests that test optional policies might result in an increase in the number of applicants, while the diversity of students who actually enroll remains largely unaffected.”
College Board spokesman Zachary Goldberg was less strident: “The College Board’s mission isn’t to ensure all colleges require the SAT, it’s to expand access to college for more students and help them succeed when they get there. We work closely with test optional institutions. They are our members, they participate in our programs, and representatives from test optional colleges have served on our Board of Trustees. … Whether required for admission or not, SAT scores help colleges create data-driven programs to ensure admitted students get the supports they need to graduate.”
An indication that some education policymakers are getting frustrated with the debate over using ACT/SAT scores in admissions came recently at a meeting of the Board of Regents of the University of California system.
The Los Angeles Times reported that board Chairman John A. Pérez “startled meeting participants” when he asked the general counsel of the UC system whether regents had to wait for the faculty senate’s task force to finish a review before acting on the issue. The task force was put together last year by University of California President Janet Napolitano.
According to the Times, Vice Chairwoman Cecilia Estolano said at the meeting that tests use a “clearly flawed methodology that has a discriminatory impact” and “we don’t need any more studies” on the issue.
Other regents offered different views, but there was clearly some sentiment against the use of the tests for admissions. What the University of California does could have widespread impact on higher education admissions policy nationally. Stay tuned.