Students Still Find SAT Required Despite Recent College Reforms

For nearly a decade, educational forecasters have been predicting the demise of the SAT, the  Scholastic Assessment Test that colleges, in the highly competitive world of college admissions, have used as a predictor for student success.

Just last week, George Washington University became the latest major college to announce that it would no longer require the SAT or its cousin, the ACT (American College Test), as a prerequisite for admissions.

Even so, the SAT and ACT are still around and very much a part of the application process for thousands of students annually planning to apply to the majority of schools.

Back in 2006, ABC News published an article noting that one fourth of the top 100 liberal arts colleges (as rated by U.S. News and World Report) were no longer requiring the SAT for admission. That story noted that Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, had dropped the SAT requirement in 1984 and that a 20-year study by Bates had prompted numerous other colleges to follow suit.

“The SAT itself was not a fair indication of ability in all cases,” Elaine Tuttle Hansen, president of Bates back in 2006, told ABC in the story titled “Beginning of the End of the SAT?

Last week, George Washington University indicated in its announcement that it considered standardized tests to be an impediment to recruiting disadvantaged students, some of whom, believing they would not compare favorably, might be reluctant to even apply if SAT or ACT scores were a requirement.

Critics of the SAT (which will introduce an updated test and scoring system in Spring 2016) and ACT have long maintained that the tests are culturally biased and not reflective of a student’s true knowledge or potential.

Karen Stroud Felton, dean of admissions for George Washington University, told the Washington Post: “Although we have long employed a holistic application review process, we had concerns that students who could be successful at GW felt discouraged from applying if their scores were not as strong as their high school performance. We want outstanding students from all over the world and from all different background—regardless of their standardized score—to recognize GW as a place where they can thrive.”

According to, (The National Center for Fair & Open Testing) more than 800 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. no longer require SAT or ACT scores as part of the freshman admission process. But the Washington Post notes that GW, with more than 10,000 undergraduate students, is now the largest of more than 125 private colleges in the U.S. News and World Report rankings to make submission of SAT/ACT scores optional.

Effective August 1,  GW applicants will have the option to include standardized test scores as part of their application. “The test-optional policy should strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool and will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students, and students from low-income households,” said Laurie Koehler, GW’s Senior Associate Provost for Enrollment Management.

The Post reported that Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), is among the schools that have recruited a higher number of minority students since instituting an optional-test policy in 2008. “We find much more value in a student’s accomplishments in four years of high school than in four hours of Saturday testing,” WFU Dean of Admissions Martha Blevins Allman told the Post.

The College Board has defended the importance of the SAT, telling NPR: “Overwhelming evidence shows that SAT scores and high school GPA, in combination, are the best predictors of college success. Evidence also shows that test-optional policies do not increase socio-economic and racial diversity on college campuses—which is what these policies claim to achieve.”

ACT maintains that standardized tests are important if for no other reason than school grading systems can vary widely. “I can’t understand why a school would consider admitting a student without a test score but not admit a student with a (low) test score,” ACT senior vice president Paul Weeks told NPR.

Although some schools waive mandatory SAT/ACT scores for students with outstanding grade-point averages, other test-flexible schools still require some form of standardized testing and may accept scores from International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement exams.

ACT President Jon L. Erickson told the Washington Post that he detects no surge in colleges making test results an optional submission.

“I’m not seeing it,” he said, indicating that admissions officers continue to see significant value in standardized tests scores, when considered as part of  an application in its entirety. “I have to question why having less information to make a decision (would be) a good thing,” he said.

Just because submission of a standardized test score is now optional at some schools does not mean that students are not still taking such tests or making their tests results available to college admission officers.

2013 report by the New York Times revealed that students were taking and/or retaking the SAT 66 percent more often in 2012 (more than 1.64 million tests) than in 1986 and that the ACT, long popular in the Midwest, had actually overtaken the SAT. The Times reported a 128 percent increase in the number of ACT exams from 1986 to 2012, making it most popular among high school test-takers at 1.66 million, in part due to ACT contracts with states to test all 11th-graders in public schools.

But FairTest, in a survey released in April, observed that more colleges and universities had eliminated the SAT/ACT requirement in the previous 12 months than in any previous year. “This test-optional surge is a sharp rejection of the ‘new SAT’ and an embrace of better ways to evaluate applicants,” FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer said. “Many higher education leaders … understood that the ‘new’ exam will not be a fairer or more accurate predictor of college performance. No test—not the SAT, old or new, nor the ACT—is needed for high quality admissions.”

In its announcement, George Washington University said that test results will still be a requirement for college athletes, those applying to a seven-year program for a combined bachelor’s/medical degree, students from schools not supplying class-rank results, and for home-school students.

Bill Hiss, dean of admissions at Bates College when it dropped its SAT requirement in the 1980s, said that requiring the SAT “doesn’t make any sense. We’re artificially truncating the pool of people who would be successful. The SAT doesn’t tell us about imagination. It  doesn’t tell us about self-discipline. It very often masks the background of kids coming from different cultures.”

Still, mass exodus from the consideration of standardized test results seems a long way off. Hiss’s comments came in 2006. GW’s decision notwithstanding, both the SAT and ACT continues to help dictate which students will make the grade and which will not when it comes to admission at the majority of U.S. colleges.

Image via Benjamin Chun / CC by 2.0


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