Some American Universities Adopt New Admissions Test Policies
Aug 15: As the new school year approaches in the United States, millions of
American students will prepare for and fret over the Scholastic Aptitude Test,
the SAT, which has long been a key requirement for college admission. There has
been a contentious debate over the SAT and other standardized tests, but now
more than 700 colleges and universities in the United States no longer require
applicants to submit standardized test scores. From VOA's New York Bureau,
Elizabeth Giegerich has the details.
The SAT is a three hour and forty-five minute standardized test comprised of
three sections: math, reading and writing. Each year, over two million students
take the test. The College Board, which administers the test, says the SAT is
designed to measure critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and the writing
skills that students need to do college-level work.
While the SAT is unquestionably the most prevalent test, there is another,
the ACT, which has become increasingly popular - 1.2 million high school
students take it each year.
In recent years, standardized testing has become controversial, which has led
some schools to make significant changes. The National Center for Fair and Open
Testing, also known as FairTest, leads a movement to end the use of standardized
test scores in the college admissions process. Robert Schaeffer, the public
education director of FairTest, explains his organization's stance, particularly
on the SAT.
"The SAT has been shown by independent research to be biased, a weak
predictor of how students will do in college, susceptible to coaching and not
useful in the college admissions process," he said.
The College Board, which declined an interview, sent the following statement
to Voice of America:
"There are 25,000 high schools in the United States. As a national standard
in the selection process, the SAT helps colleges make informed decisions about
applications from students, who are from widely divergent academic backgrounds.
While the College Board has always said the best predictor of college
performance is the combination of high school grades and standardized admissions
test scores, the fact is that grade inflation is an increasingly noticeable
issue, making it more important than ever to also have a standardized admissions
Today, more than 700 U.S. institutions of higher education do not require
standardized test scores for admission. But some, such as Holy Cross College in
Massachusetts, give applicants the option of submitting their scores or not. Ann
McDermott, director of admissions at Holy Cross, explains how the optional
"The students can opt to tell us to use the testing or not and so if they say
'do,' fine, we have that. If they say 'don't,' we completely ignore it," she
said. "But it has every one completely focused on the transcripts, the
recommendations, essays, interviews, things like that."
Critics of standardized testing say that students from high-income families
have the resources to pay for extensive SAT preparation courses and tutoring,
giving them an advantage over low-income students.
Critics also believe that standardized tests add stress to teenage lives and
take time away from academic and social activities that may be more important
than studying for the SAT. These concerns, Ann McDermott says, influenced Holy
Cross's decision to make standardized tests optional.
"In the effort to make admissions less stressful, try to make it a little
more open, we felt that we didn't want to play the game of testing preparation
and all that so we just decided that it was a better reflection of what we
valued in our admissions process," she said.
McDermott says it would be difficult for large institutions to eliminate
standardized tests because bigger schools receive more applications and
generally have fewer admissions resources than smaller schools.
Bates College in Maine, a small college with less than 2,000 students,
eliminated the SAT requirement more than 20 years ago. Bates administrator,
Wiley Mitchell, has found the policy a success.
"I would say it's worked very well," he said. "There's been almost no
difference between the graduation rates, for example, of students who gave us
their scores or who did not submit them. There's been almost - just a negligible
difference in their grade point averages."
Lafayette, a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, adopted an SAT
optional policy in 1995. Five years later the school decided to reinstate a
standardized test requirement. Carol Rowlands, director of admissions at
Lafayette, explains why.
"Even though high school grade point average and curricular selection for us
is a very strong indicator of first year student performance at Lafayette, we
found that by also having the ability to view standardized testing, that
enhanced our ability to predict first year student achievement," she said. "More
information is better."
Sarah Lawrence College, a small liberal arts school in New York, does not
accept any standardized test scores at all except the TOEFL, the Test of English
as a Foreign Language, from international applicants. Steven Schierloh, dean of
admissions at Sarah Lawrence, explains how both national and international
applicants are evaluated at his school.
"We use the same rubric, the same structure, to evaluate all students both
domestically and internationally and, again, place a large emphasis on academic
preparation, nature of the curriculum, choice of classes, rigor, how students
have done in those courses, as well as several papers," he said.
Schaeffer of Fairtest and administrators at colleges where standardized tests
are optional all emphasize the importance of demonstrated English language
skills, especially when test scores are absent. Schaeffer says that
international students are a special category.
"What we encourage students to do is to contact the college directly for any
special rules they may have that apply to international students," he said.
The college admissions process remains a source of stress in the lives of
many young people, and their parents. Today, 700 U.S. colleges are trying to
reduce the stress by eliminating standardized tests. This trend may continue,
but don't put away your pencils just yet. Most educational institutions in the
United States continue to require and depend on standardized test scores to make
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