Admissions tests seem to have cast a spell over teenagers and their parents. Last week, during the first in the series of virtual town halls I’m hosting with Grown and Flown over the coming weeks, the bulk of the questions we received from viewers were about the SAT and ACT. What if we only have one score, should we send it to schools? What if all the tests are canceled this fall?
- Standardized testing “is a business arrangement among various parties, each with something important at stake,” my former colleague at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Hoover, pointed out recently in this must-read article on testing.
- After spending a year inside the college admissions process for the book, I found that students (and their parents) emphasize the SAT/ACT much more than the admissions officers who evaluate the scores.
Indeed, even before the pandemic
of admissions leaders found that grades and high-school curriculum mattered most in their decisions about who to admit. Test scores ranked third.
Numerous studies have found that grades by themselves are a better predictor of a student’s success in college than test scores on their own.
- Because Covid-19 has upended the ability of many students to take the test, some 400 schools have gone test-optional in recent months.
- In all, 60% of four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. will not require applicants to submit ACT/SAT scores for fall 2021 admission, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which maintains a free, online master list.
What I’m hearing: Parents and counselors don’t trust that schools are really “test optional.” That’s why many are still pulling out all the stops to try to get to a testing site this fall.
- In response, representatives from more than 400 colleges signed a letter from the National Association for College Admission Counseling saying that test optional really means test optional.
- “I hear stories of people flying places, planning to drive places—and I wouldn’t do that,” Ronné Turner, vice provost for admissions and financial aid, Washington University in St. Louis, told the audience during our virtual town hall on Wednesday night.
“If there’s availability for tests where you live and you feel comfortable, great, do it. If not, we’re test optional. We say we’re test optional. Trust that we’re test optional.” —Ronné Turner
Without a test score, Turner said admissions officers at Washington University are “going to lean in” to the grades on the transcript and the coursework in high school. “If you’re interested in engineering, then physics and calculus are going to be really important,” she said.
- Selective schools who are test optional this year will likely do the same thing—look more closely at grades and courses. They might also consider recommendations and essays more than they have in the past.
- But as I point out in the book, every school evaluates applicants differently in their “holistic” process. So if there’s a particular school you want to go to, be sure to ask what they’re going to be looking at more closely this year in place of test scores.
"When we don’t have a test score, we’ll use other things. We’ll use your GPA, we’ll use your grade trends, we’ll use your curriculum. If you feel like a test adds to that, wonderful.” — Sacha Thieme, executive director of admissions, Indiana University
Yes, but: Why go test-optional and not test-blind? I asked that question of Andrew Palumbo, dean of admissions and financial aid at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who was also a guest on our webcast. WPI went test-optional in 2007, yet around 80% of its applicants still submit scores.
- Until this spring, WPI was one of the only selective science-and-technology schools to be test-optional.
- “We want students to control how they are reviewed,” Palumbo told me. “We’re explicit that test scores are not an academic component. We treat it the same as anything that students submit that is not required.”
For most applicants to most colleges, grades and test scores
align. In other words, the test score makes sense with the grades
on the transcript and vice versa. One study from 2011
of more than 150,000 students nationwide found that some 60% of applicants to college have test scores consistent with their academic performance in high school. So where test scores might help (or even hurt someone) is when there is a significant gap between the two metrics—and this year that’s where admissions officers are going to be largely flying blind.
Admissions in the Covid Age: Senior Year & Testing