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The list of test-optional colleges and universities keeps growing — despite College Board’s latest jab


(Update: Adding comment from College Board regarding quote from Elizabeth Coleman)

This can’t be great news for the owners of the ACT and the SAT college admissions exams, but the list of colleges and universities that no longer require scores from those tests to be submitted with a student application keeps growing.

The list of test-optional schools maintained by the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing now has more than 950 accredited schools that award bachelor’s degrees, with more than 275 highly ranked in their tiers of the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings. The center, known as FairTest, is dedicated to ending the misuse of standardized tests.

The latest schools to join the list include Emerson College in Boston; University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark.; Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.; Houghton College in western New York; and Worcester State University in Massachusetts.

There are different ways that schools approach test scores for admissions. Hundreds don’t require them at all; others don’t require them for students with certain grade-point averages. Hampshire College doesn’t want them at all. There are also “test-flexible” schools that allow students to submit scores of their choosing from different tests, including Advanced Placement. Fewer than a dozen schools in the FairTest databank are test-flexible.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, recently published an attack on the list with a story on its website titled “The Facts About Test-Optional Policies,” which repeats what the College Board has long said: that SAT scores are predictive of how a student will do in college in his/her first year (a point that has been challenged by critics).

A number of schools have taken issue with this, most recently Emerson College, which just decided to become test optional. Ruthanne Madsen, vice president for enrollment management, was quoted as saying in the Berkeley Beacon:

“We have found that there is not really a correlation with success at Emerson and SAT or ACT scores. So we are more fixated on the performance of the student and what contribution they can make to the classroom and in our community.”

The College Board piece says that grade point-averages shouldn’t be used as a single measure for college admissions (although nobody actually said it should, given other pieces of information that colleges ask students to produce).

It also says GPAs are subject to “variables like school demographics, teacher discretion, and state and district standards.” It doesn’t mention, of course how test scores are subject to variables, too, such as school demographics, teacher discretion, state and district standards, whether someone is sick or hungry or has test anxiety, etc. It also says test-optional practices don’t promote diversity in school — but doesn’t say it hurts it.

Last year, Reuters noted in this story that Bennington, a liberal arts college in Vermont, went test optional in 2006, and the person who made the decision was then-president Elizabeth Coleman,  the mother of David Coleman, the current head of the College Board. She was quoted as saying by Reuters:

“Probably it’s a good idea not to talk about this stuff. I’m his mother. One of the wise things for a mother to do is to stay out of it.”

The College Board says that that quote was taken out of context. It provided this statement: “This blog post pulls from an article that takes out of context a quote from Elizabeth Coleman. She was addressing a request to talk about David Coleman’s tenure at the College Board broadly, not test optional specifically.”

ACT Inc., which (obviously) owns the ACT test, last year published its own attack on test-optional policies. Its report also said that test-optional policies don’t have any effect on student diversity, and said that the data “indicate that ACT scores are predictive not only of first-year success but also of long-term college outcomes such as retention, cumulative GPA and graduation.”

Scott White, a veteran college counselor in New Jersey, blasted both organizations for their arguments about test-optional policies, saying that they cherry-pick data to try to prove their points and sometimes make statements that have no real bearing in fact. For example, writing about the ACT report titled, “More Information, More Informed Decisions: Why test-optional policies do NOT benefit institutions or students,”  he criticized a passage in a 2011 study of Bowdoin College about students who did not submit test scores. The study said that “their first-year grade-point average (FYGPA) was substantially lower, as would have been predicted by their lower SAT scores,” and then it says this: “The average FYGPA was roughly 0.20 lower for non-submitters as compared to submitters.”

Scott wrote:

“First year GPA is substantially lower” for student who don’t submit scores, “as would have been predicted by their lower SAT scores.” How substantial? .2. Yes, they actually are saying that a difference of .2 in a GPA is “substantial”. Really! And these are professional statisticians! Time to go back to school!

Scott also said the study itself notes what many critics of standardized test scores have always pointed out: that scores were “noticeably higher” in families with higher incomes, and the paper concludes that “rather than blaming the test … students would be better served if we focused on understanding the social and academic factors that are leaving less affluent students ill-prepared for college and the workforce.”

And he noted that one of the authors of the ACT piece has worked at the College Board.

The College Board’s attack on test-optional schools includes a shot at FairTest’s list:

The vast majority of U.S. colleges require SAT scores as part of the application process, and all of them accept scores.
This fact has been obscured by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) through an online list, which currently cites 900 schools that “do not use ACT/SAT scores to admit substantial numbers of students into bachelor-degree programs.” A closer look suggests the number is much smaller:
  • About 115 are for-profit schools, like the Academy of Couture Art, which has 17 total students.

  • About 230 are special focus schools, like the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science.

  • More than 70 are two-year or certificate schools, and an additional 315 are open-admission schools or schools that were never primary users of college entrance exams to begin with. Some schools don’t exist anymore, like Knoxville College, which lost accreditation in 1997 and has since stopped operating.

Knoxville College was on the list at the time the College Board posted its article. It no longer is.

And, according to Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, every school on the test-optional/flexible list grants some bachelor degrees, though some primarily focus on two-year courses. He said that the College Board’s arguments against test-optional schools are recycled every few years, and that the February 2017 piece “largely replicates a piece they put out a decade ago when our list was much smaller.” He wrote:

There’s nothing new in the College Board’s claims. In fact, FairTest’s list of schools is based on the federal government’s IPEDS database, just like the College Board handbook … The College Board’s attempt to denigrate the quality of test-optional institutions conveniently ignores the fact that half of the “Top 100″ national liberal arts schools have test-optional or test-flexible policies. Most importantly growing numbers of college bound students are interested in being treated as “more than a score” — last year, FairTest’s database hosted more than 400,000 visits!

As for open-admission schools being on the list, he said:

“True, but again the College Board’s own College Handbook 2016 also profiles them. In fact, FairTest double-checks its data against the College Board’s, which features a special listing of “Open Admissions” schools on pages 2343 and 2344.”

Schaeffer said about 115 schools on the FairTest list are for-profit schools, including the Academy of Couture Art, which has 17 total students, a school mentioned by the College Board. But he noted:

“Talk about double standards: The College Board College Handbook 2016 also includes Academy of Couture Art (profile on page 103 says that it has 21 degree-seeking undergraduates).

He also said this:

The truth is that the primary difference between our criteria is that the College Board pads their count by listing every campus of chain schools (e.g. seven listings for ITT Technical Institute in California alone in the 2016 edition) when FairTest lists such schools just once.

You can see the whole test-optional list here.

Here’s more:

How the SAT and PSAT collect personal data on students — and what the College Board does with it

Finally, the College Board makes it easier for students with disabilities to get SAT accommodations

What your child needs to know before taking the SAT and ACT