Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:
We continue our focus on the subject of test-optional colleges and universities. In today’s message, we’ll identify some arguments for and some against the policy.
A Primary Goal
Increasing diversity on college campuses is a primary goal of test-optional policies. Advocates argue that de-emphasizing the role of test scores and instead considering only or primarily high school class rank and GPA as the measures of academic readiness will allow greater numbers of qualified minority, low-income, first generation, and other students to apply.
Opponents argue that schools use test-optional policies merely to increase applications from students they likely won’t admit (and thus increase the perceived selectivity of the school). Research has shown that (over the last 30 years at 180 selective liberal arts colleges in the United States) schools that implemented test-optional policies enrolled a lower proportion of underrepresented minorities and Pell grant recipients than did test-requiring institutions. The adoption of a test-optional policy did not decrease the diversity gap on these campuses. At these institutions, the adoption of test-optional policies succeeded in increasing colleges’ perceived selectivity—the average SAT scores for enrolled students increased along with the volume of applications. Though they accepted a similar number of students, the increase in applicants led to a lower percent of applicants being admitted, which in turn, inflated the perceived selectivity.
However, other research disagrees. A smaller study incorporating data from 28 colleges and universities with test-optional policies found that those schools saw the same increase in number of applications, but also saw gains in the numbers of Black and Latino students applying and admitted. The underrepresented minority students were also more likely not to submit test scores. Across all students that did not submit scores, typically first-year grades were slightly lower, but graduation rates were similar to students who did submit scores.
Ultimately, the research is still inconclusive on the success of test-optional policies in promoting campus diversity. In the time frame since test-optional policies first emerged, most liberal arts colleges have been getting more diverse generally and have implemented a number of new initiatives to increase campus diversity. This makes it difficult to assess whether test-optional policies impacted increases in diversity on campuses.
In the end
Within each study cited here, colleges and universities saw mixed results in adopting the policy, and the lack of true “control groups” in these studies means it’s very difficult to track with fidelity the effect of the policy—and whether or not removing test scores from the conversation limits useful information for colleges making admissions decisions.
We will continue to post this information on our website, so you can have a centralized resource to reference and refer others to when thinking through the subject. We’ll update this resource daily.
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO