Mar 3, 2014

Report questions role of standardized tests in admissions

DePaul University

Just as College Board President David Coleman prepares to present information about the redesigned SAT in a live broadcast scheduled for Wednesday, March 5, more questions have surfaced about the overall usefulness of standardized testing in the college admissions process.

A report released by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) suggests that there is no significant difference in the success rates of students who submit their standardized test scores to colleges and those who don’t.

In a three-year study of almost 123,000 students at 33 “widely differing institutions” with test-optional admission policies, there were no significant differences in either cumulative GPA or graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters, according to Defining Promise:  Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions.”

The report suggests that low test scores may actually misrepresent the qualifications of many low-income students who are much less likely than their affluent peers to have high SAT and ACT scores:  “In a variety of settings, non-submitters are out-performing their standardized testing.”

Confirming other institution-based studies, researchers found that students with strong GPA’s typically performed well in college—even if they had low test scores.  Students with weaker grades and higher scores generally earned lower grades in college.

Of the 2,593 freshmen enrolled in the DePaul University fall 2012 class, about five percent were admitted without standardized test scores.  By the end of their first year, the GPA for “testers” was .07 of grade point higher than those who didn’t submit ACT’s or SAT’s.  In addition, the freshman retention rate was nearly identical at 84 percent for non-submitters and 85 percent for submitters.

"To anybody that's been doing college admissions for a long time, they aren't surprising at all," said Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul's associate vice president for enrollment management in a conversation with DNAinfo Chicago. "My guess is that they are probably very surprising to people who are outside higher education."

Reflecting similar findings, the NACAC study showed:

  • Students admitted to college without regard to standardized test scores do as well academically as those entering under regular criteria
  • At both private and public institutions, students in both high- and low-income families frequently chose not to submit scores
  • Test-optional admission is particularly valuable for first-generation, minority, immigrant and rural students as well as students with learning differences
  • High school grades are much stronger predictors of undergraduate performance than test scores
  • Students who choose not to submit scores may be missed in consideration for “merit” financial awards

The full report, which is posted on the NACAC  website, followed NACAC’s “State of College Admission 2013” report which showed that a student’s high school record continues to be the most important factor in college admission decisions. 

You can be sure that David Coleman will be addressing these issues and how the College Board intends to keep the SAT relevant to the college admissions process in his March 5 broadcast (2:00 pm EST) and on the new website—a College Board initiative designed to support new directions for the old test.

And for a complete list of colleges and universities with test-optional or test-flexible admissions policies, visit the FairTest website.

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