Jun 28, 2016

More colleges vote ‘No Confidence’ in standardized tests

Columbia University

Earlier this month, Columbia University joined a large and growing group of colleges and universities expressing little or no confidence in standardized tests used for college admissions.  Along with the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia will no longer require applicants to submit SAT Subject Tests or writing sections of the SAT or ACT.

According to an announcement published on its website, “Columbia uses a holistic review process when evaluating applicants for admission, in which grades and test scores are assessed within the broader context of an applicant’s interests, background, personal qualities and accomplishments.”

By removing the Subject Test requirement (in Penn’s case reducing it to a recommendation) and basically “dissing” the writing tests, Columbia and Penn are making pretty clear statements about how important a role these tests will play in admissions decisions going forward.

In fact, the number of U.S. schools that still “require” the SAT Subject Tests can be counted on a single person’s hands and toes and most of those allow the ACT to substitute for all Subject Tests. A quick check on the Compass Prep website shows that only 10 colleges still require them regardless of whether the ACT or SAT is submitted for admissions consideration.

And there are lots of reasons schools might want to step back from their reliance on standardized tests. But unfortunately, many colleges are failing to do due diligence when it comes to assessing how much value is added to the admissions process by requiring the ACT, SAT or SAT Subject Tests. 

A report released this month by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) reveals that only half of the four-year institutions surveyed do not have current data on the predictive value of the ACT and SAT scores they use. When it comes to testing requirements, many of these schools are on automatic pilot and have no particular (or measured) reason for continuing to ask applicants for scores.

“Some admissions offices continue to require the ACT and SAT out of habit. Others believe the tests convey ‘prestige’,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest. “As NACAC shows, many of these institutions lack current evidence that the scores accurately forecast academic outcomes.”

David Hawkins, NACAC’s executive director of educational content and policy, tells The Chronicle of Higher Education, “If admissions offices are going to require standardized tests, they would benefit both themselves and the students who are applying by knowing more about what those test predict.”

Well yes, especially considering that most colleges agree that high school grades are “by far the most significant predictor” of achievement in college. And as the NACAC report goes on to say, “Recent changes in the content of the SAT, increased use of the SAT and ACT as high school assessment instruments, and the changing demographics of students who take the tests could all affect the predictive validity of test scores.”

So it’s no surprise that a record 33 schools dropped admissions score requirements for all or many applicants over the past year, bringing the total to more than 860 colleges and universities FairTest lists as having test-optional or test-flexible policies.  In fact the list includes 210 institutions ranked in the top tiers of U.S. News Best Colleges edition. And according to FairTest, nearly half of all nationally-ranked liberal arts colleges are test-optional or test-flexible.

In the past year, Catholic, Drake, George Washington, and Willamette universities, as well as Hiram, Kalamazoo, Quinnipiac, Ripon, Skidmore, and Trinity colleges have dropped standardized tests from their admissions requirements.  Several public campuses such as the University of Delaware, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania also recently adopted test-optional admissions policies.

“A rapidly growing number of higher education leaders recognize that applicants’ high school records are the fairest, most accurate predictors of college academic performance,” explains Schaeffer. “Neither the SAT, old or new, nor the ACT is needed to make high quality, equitable admissions decisions.”

And it appears that some of the Ivies are slowly beginning to come to that same conclusion.

Note: Barnard College has followed Columbia’s lead and will no longer require Subject Tests or the writing sections of either the SAT or ACT.

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