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The test-optional movement takes off

Wesleyan was among the first to announce the move to test-optional for 2014-15.
Wesleyan was among the first to announce the move to test-optional for 2014-15.Nancy Griesemer

While gratifying, this year’s rush to test-optional among colleges with significant differences in size, mission, selectivity, and location has even the most dedicated advocates scratching their heads.

Since last spring, ten colleges and universities have announced plans to decrease or entirely eliminate the role of standardized testing in admissions decisions made by their institutions. The most recent, Plymouth State University, is the fourth large public university to go test optional this summer. Old Dominion University (ODU), Temple University and Montclair State University are the other three.

And openly exploring routes for a switch to test-optional, the University of Puget Sound has added two optional questions to its Common App Writing Supplement that the admissions office hopes will help inform a decision to drop test score requirements in the future.

When asked why this year and why now, Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, replied, “I believe there are two major reasons for the surge in announcements of test-optional policies this summer: the cumulative impact of the successful experience at other schools that have dropped admissions test requirements, particularly as summarized by Bill Hiss' important report, and a recognition by admissions leaders that the ‘major overhaul’ of the SAT promised by the College Board does nothing to address its fundamental flaws (predictive validity, fairness, susceptibility to coaching).”

For nearly three decades, FairTest has worked to end the misuses and flaws in testing policies that fail to promote “fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluation of students, teachers, and schools.”

Although the decision to go test-optional involves a little risk-taking and a firm belief that it’s the right thing to do, there are many reasons colleges make the decision to align with FairTest and decide not to use the ACT or SAT in admitting some or all applicants.

And according to Bob Schaeffer, as the test-optional movement has grown, more schools are developing their own “unique” approach to testing. Consistent with the belief that one-size-fits-all rules make no sense when it comes to requiring applicants’ ACT/SAT results, FairTest believes colleges and universities should develop admissions policies that mesh with their missions and the type of students they want to attract.

These policies include limiting test-optional to certain GPA’s or rank in class as well as asking for requesting additional writing and/or personal interviews in lieu of scores. A handful of colleges have taken more of a mix-and-match approach by allowing students to submit results from several different tests including SAT Reasoning, ACT with Writing, SAT Subject Tests, AP exams, or IB.

To understand the thinking behind some of the decisions made in recent months, here are quotes from statements released by five of the newest members of the test-optional team (the other five are Emmanuel College, Hampshire College, Hofstra University, ODU, and Wesleyan University):

Beloit
Beloit Nancy Griesemer

Beloit

Beloit College, WI

“I am concerned that the standardized test requirement adds little unique value to our selection process.  Indeed, the requirement can, in some cases, inhibit access to Beloit among capable students who would greatly contribute to and benefit from the College.”  Vice President for Enrollment Robert Mirabile

Bryn Mawr
Bryn Mawr Nancy Griesemer

Bryn Mawr

Bryn Mawr College, PA

“We looked not just at the national data but also took a very hard look at our own data over the last several years. It was clear that the standardized tests added very little predictive information after accounting for the strength of applicants’ academic work in high school and the admissions staff’s review of the whole application.”  
Professor Marc Schulz, Member of the Admissions Committee

Montclair State
Montclair State Wikipedia

Montclair State

Montclair State University, NJ

“In addition to being a better predictor of academic success, we are certain that the new admissions protocol will better support our mission of serving a talented and striving student population that reflects the full socio-economic and ethnic diversity of New Jersey.  Focusing on an individual student’s actual accomplishments in high school, no matter which community the student grew up in or which high school he or she attended, will yield a highly diverse freshman class characterized by determination, ambition and the demonstrated willingness to strive for success in Montclair State’s academically rigorous environment.” 
Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole

Plymouth State
Plymouth State Wikipedia

Plymouth State

Plymouth State University, NH

"The whole idea of using these test scores is that  it puts everyone on an even playing field, but the data suggest otherwise. And we trust four years of academic performance in a classroom over four hours on a Saturday morning."
Andrew Palumbo, Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management

Temple University
Temple University Nancy Griesemer

Temple University

Temple University, PA

“At Temple, our mission is clear: We are committed to providing talented and motivated students of all backgrounds with access to a high-quality college experience and Temple degree in four years.  By giving students more choices, we open doors to more first-generation students and those from underserved communities whose enormous academic promise may be overlooked by conventional measures of achievement.” 
Temple University President Neil D. Theobald