Pencils Down: More U.S. Colleges Drop Standardized Tests

Ian Simpson, Reuters, August 16, 2015

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Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University last month joined more than 850 U.S. colleges and universities that no longer require applicants to take the SAT or ACT, tests that have been a feature of American student life for decades.

Proponents of making the tests optional say the switch can help schools become more diverse and admit students who will thrive even though they may have lagged other applicants on scores.

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The test-optional trend has accelerated in recent years, with more than two dozen schools dropping the requirement since the spring of 2014, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which advocates for test-optional admissions. They include Wisconsin’s Beloit College and Temple University in Philadelphia.

But defenders of the SAT and ACT tests of math, reading and writing say they level the playing field for applicants and provide an objective measure for scholarships.

Cyndie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at the College Board, the non-profit that administers the SAT, said research had repeatedly shown it was a strong predictor of academic success.

The SAT is relied upon by thousands of U.S. colleges and universities. It also gives low-income and minority students access to higher education by stripping out subjective factors such as grade inflation, she said.

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The United States had 3,026 four-year colleges in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

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A 2014 study of test-optional admissions involving 123,000 students at 33 schools found no major difference in college grade point averages or graduation rates between those who submitted test scores and those who did not.

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About 30 percent of students at the schools examined did not submit test scores. They tended to be the first in their families to go to college, minorities, women, from low-income families or recipients of federal Pell Grants, which do not have to be repaid, Hiss said.

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An analysis for the American Educational Research Association and Sage Publications published last year showed that colleges made no progress in improving diversity after adopting test-optional policies.

But the number of applications went up after schools dropped the test requirements, which also eliminates some of the costs of applying to college. Taking the SAT or ACT can cost up to $56.50 for a U.S. student, and many applicants take the test more than once.

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