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- A record number of colleges and universities no longer require students to submit their SAT or ACT scores for admittance, according to FairTest.
- These schools are instead turning to test-optional programs, which place a greater emphasis on grades and other aspects of a student’s life. FairTest estimates 40% of accredited bachelor degree-granting institutions no longer require the SAT or ACT for admittance. 47 schools have gone test-optional in the last year alone.
- The trend away from standardized tests comes amidst a growing body of research suggesting the SAT may disproportionately favor wealthy kids.
- Elite, top-tier schools, which are normally averse to test-optional programs, have shown signs of changing. Last year, the University of Chicago stopped requiring the SAT and ACT for admission.
- The University of California system, which is made up of 10 different universities and well over 100,000 students, is reportedly considering dropping its SAT and ACT requirements.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When Esmeralda Hernandez sent out her college applications last year, she did so facing an uphill battle. The Swainsboro, Georgia, native worked hard and always excelled in school, but it was never easy. Neither of her parents graduated high school and she described her own schools as “under-resourced.” Of all the challenges facing her on her quest to attend a top tier college, however, one of the most difficult was the SAT.
“It was much more difficult than any of the classes I had taken during high school, especially the mathematics portion,” Hernandez told Insider. The SAT, which is meant to serve as a common benchmark for students around the country, asks a variety of math questions. That was a problem for Hernandez, whose lagging high school had only worked up to algebra II. ” I was so confused during the testing,” Hernandez said, “and time got the better of me.” Hernandez took the test three times.
Hernandez’s experiences mirror that of thousands of college applicants who excel in the classroom, but due to a combination of socio-economic roadblocks, struggle to match that performance on standardized tests. Increasingly though, students like Hernandez, whose test scores would have excluded them from the nation’s best schools are finding relief through test-optional programs that don’t require SAT or ACT scores for admission.
For Hernandez, that test optional program was pivotal in helping her gain admission to her current school, the University of Chicago. Schools like the University of Chicago have floated the idea of dropping requirements for tests like the SAT and ACT for decades, but last year marked the single most significant departure from standardized test scores yet.
The SAT has been accused of privileging wealthy, mostly white kids who can afford test prep
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Since it was first implemented more than 90 years ago, the SAT has undergone multiple transformations and has become one of the two staple standardized tests for determining admittance to colleges, along with the ACT. For decades, scientific research has suggested the test, originally meant to be an academic equalizer, actually favors wealthy, usually white, students. A report out of Georgetown University appeared to bolster that argument, showing how if schools were to accept students based only on SAT scores, the accepted student body would be wealthier and less diverse. More recently, the SAT’s legitimacy came under fire once again after it was determined that parents spent tens of thousands of dollars bribing corrupt test proctors to alter test scores as part of the college admissions scandal.
According to FairTest, a non-profit that monitors testing practices, 1,050 schools have done away with standardized test requirements. That’s around 40% of all accredited bachelor degree-granting institutions. What’s more striking than the overall number of schools turning away from the SAT and ACT though is the pace of their departure.
In an interview with Insider, FairTest’s public education director Robert Schaeffer said the past year was the largest single growth in test-optional schools on record. That came on the heels of what Schaeffer described as record growth in test-optional programs over the past five years.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” Schaeffer said, “but this year was far and away the best.” Between October 1, 2018, and September 30, 2019, 47 more schools dropped ACT and SAT requirements, according to Shaffer.
University of Chicago’s decision to go test-optional could change the landscape
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The schools that have decided to go the test-optional route have run the institutional gambit, from small liberal arts colleges like Bryn Mawr to massive public schools like the University of Arizona. Some of the country’s most historically “elite” schools – like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford – have been less susceptible to change though. . But that may be changing. Last year the University of Chicago, consistently ranked among the top 10 best and most prestigious schools, announced it would no longer require SAT or ACT scores from its applicants.
“Because it’s a top tier national, and international university, it will help down the road,” Schaeffer said. “The way it helps is by legitimizing the test-optional movement, it does not result in schools lurching ahead without their own data.”
Test-optional programs appear to be working – at least for the University of Chicago. In an email to Insider, the spokesperson for the university said the school has seen a 24% increase in first-generation college students, a 10% increase in African-American students, and a 17% increase in Hispanic students since introducing its test-optional program.
Officials from The College Board have acknowledged some of the shortcomings of the test in the past. For the past three years, largely in response to criticisms that the test favors rich white kids, the College Board has tried implementing an “adversity score,” meant to measure the socioeconomic hardship of students, first through its Environmental Context Dashboard and now under a program called Landscape.
In an email sent to Insider, Jerome White, the College Board’s director of media relations and external communications said, “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.” In response to criticisms of the test’s validity, White pointed to the College Board’s 2019 National Validity Study and said its findings, collected from a survey of 223,000 students, confirmed SATs are a strong indicator of academic performance.
“They are selling a product.”
The College Board is not actively opposing the move toward test-optional policies. In fact, White says, the board still works with test-optional schools and says the test can offer beneficial data about students even if it’s not used for admissions decisions.
“Grades and test scores serve as a check and balance in the admissions process,” White said. “We believe an SAT score should never be a veto on any student’s life.”
Shaeffer of FairTest was unconvinced that the College Board’s attempts at amending the test made any real difference. None of the changes made to the SAT in the past two decades, Shaeffer claimed, made the test into a more accurate or fairer predictor of student success.
“They are selling a product,” Shaeffer said. “Cigarette manufacturers and vaping manufacturers told us there was a great value in their products too.”
If the SAT is viewed as a product, then it’s about to face one of it’s largest marketplace hurdles yet. According to The Los Angeles Times, the University of California system, comprised of 10 universities and well over 100,000 students, is considering doing away with its SAT and ACT requirements. The College Board did not respond to Insider’s question about the implications of the University of California going test-optional.
Hernandez admits that adjusting to life at one of the nation’s most rigorous school has been a challenge; something her struggling SAT scores may have predicted. For a time, while waiting to hear back from schools last year, the freshman says she doubted whether she’d made the right choice.
“While I waited for decisions to come back, I sometimes asked myself if choosing test-optional was a mistake,” Hernadez said. Despite the doubt and despite the difficult transition period, Hernandez says the decision was worth it, and is convinced admissions with less focus on test scores could help others like herself.
“Test-optional helps people who did not have as many educational opportunities to shine and show their true motivation without a four-hour test result defining their application,” she said.
- Read more:
- After colleges complained about the SATs offering an ‘adversity scores’ to boost students from difficult backgrounds the College Board nixed the program
- Here’s how the SAT has changed over the past 90 years and where it might be heading
- 27 great schools that don’t require SAT or ACT scores