Test-optional admission has become an unfortunate trend in higher ed. In recent years, Smith, Brandeis, Wesleyan and other schools have declared that they will make submission of SAT or ACT scores optional for applicants, considering items such as high school work samples and subject test scores in their place.
ACTA has expressed concerns about such policies in the past, pointing out data showing that SAT and ACT scores correlate with performance in college courses and with retention and graduation rates. We have therefore urged schools to avoid getting swept up in enthusiasm for test-optional policies.
Even schools that go test-optional, however, will still consider standardized test scores if they are submitted. Sarah Lawrence College used to refuse to look at any scores, but they reversed that policy in 2012.
Now, Inside Higher Ed reports, Hampshire College has decided to go “test-blind.” Frustrated that many applicants have chosen to submit scores despite its test-optional policy, Hampshire will no longer look at scores as part of its admissions process. Hampshire College has a unique pedagogical model—traditional tests aren’t part of its curriculum. But its refusal to consider the test scores of students who wish to submit them raises even more concerns than a test-optional policy would.
Though it is often forgotten today, the SAT served as an early democratizing force in higher ed. Academic aptitude, rather than a student’s family background or the reputation of her high school, became the operative factor in college admissions. Even today, standardized tests can identify students who may have had poor teachers or guidance counselors but possess strong academic aptitude. Research has shown that concerns over inequity resulting from access to test-prep courses are overblown and that the SAT and ACT remain useful methods of predicting college performance.
Standardized tests have increased in importance as grading standards in high school have weakened. Between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of SAT test-takers with A-range grades rose from 36% to 43%, and the percentage of test-takers with grades in the C-range decreased from 15% to 11%. However, the same period saw a modest decline in SAT scores among students with A-range grades. As far as the ACT is concerned, in 2010 only 25% of the test-takers could meet all four ACT College Readiness benchmarks. Grade inflation is so notorious that several prestigious companies ask college graduates (!) for their SAT scores, deeming them a more reliable predictor of talent and potential than their college transcripts.
College admissions tests are not dispositive measures—but they remain useful. Making them optional is worrisome enough. Robbing students of the chance to prove their talent is worse.