For years, national standardized admissions tests have been a primary way schools decide who they’ll accept, and a stress that many graduating high school students agonize through multiple times seeking a high mark.
Along with hundreds of schools across the country, more that two dozen colleges and universities in Missouri and Kansas have lightened the weight they give to standardized college admission test scores. Instead, they’re giving more attention to GPA, high school transcripts and activities.
School admissions officers say tapping the students with grit or dogged perseverance rather than just signing on those with the highest test scores better serves their campus environment.
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But The College Board, which administers the national standardized college admission tests, questions whether less dependence on ACT and SAT scores for college acceptance actually allows for more diversity on campus.
A list published this month by The Washington Post contained numerous schools across the country that now consider ACT and SAT scores optional to some degree.
It included such area schools as the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Park University, William Jewell College, Fort Hays State University, Donnelly College, Wichita State, Missouri Southern State, Missouri Western State, Emporia State and MidAmerica Nazarene, to name a few.
“It’s up to the student if they want to submit test scores, and we will look at that, but if they don’t there are other criteria that we can consider,” said Cara Dahlor, a spokeswoman for William Jewell College in Liberty.
Looking beyond test scores allows colleges to “broaden the pool” of applicants and explore a more diverse population of students, Bill Sedlacek, an emeritus professor of education at the University of Maryland, College Park, told The Star.
Sedlacek has been studying alternative, nontraditional ways beyond standardized tests and class ranks for schools to identify students.
“We believe that an education is a right for all, not a privilege for only a few,” said Shane Smeed, vice president and chief operating officer at Park University, a “test optional” institution in Parkville. “Since higher education was first chartered in the United States back in 1636, educational institutions like Park have continued to remove barriers for entry.”
Smeed said Park admissions officers consider GPA over standardized test scores and weigh several other factors that also measure a student’s high school career.
At Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, standardized test scores have no bearing on admission, but rather they are only “used for placement” at a particular course level, said Jeanne Daffron, university provost.
Not relying on ACT or SAT scores for admission is not new at Missouri Western. “We are an open enrollment institution,” Daffron said.
She said most applicants submit standardized test scores. For those who don’t, the school refers to high school transcripts and diplomas or GED certificates.
At all of the Kansas universities governed by the state board of regents, SAT and ACT scores are optional for admission, said Bobby Gandu, director of admissions at Wichita State University.
“Not all students are good test-takers,” Gandu said. Looking at a student’s high school transcript, “you can really see three or four years of high school work, and it will give you a much broader picture of the student.”
The test, he said, is just a snapshot of one moment in one day.
Officials from The College Board say there is little evidence that test-optional policies increase diversity on campus.
“Anecdotal accounts show such policies can increase the number and/or diversity of applicants but not of admitted students,” said Maria Eugenia Alcón-Heraux, a spokeswoman for The College Board.
She said, “Research consistently finds the SAT to be a valid and reliable predictor of college outcomes, including grade point average, retention, and completion.”
Alcón-Heraux cited a 2016 study done by the College Board with the help of colleges and universities, to see how well the new SAT — developed last year — predicts first-year success in college. “The findings matched what colleges have seen for years: SAT scores, in conjunction with high school grades, are the strongest predictors overall.”
She said that just as the SAT alone shouldn’t be used to make admission decisions, neither should GPA.
“High school grades aren’t objective measures—they’re subject to variables like school demographics, teacher discretion, and state and district standards. And they’re increasingly subject to inflation,”Alcón-Heraux said.
The Washington Post reported that as of spring 2017, about 900 schools are “test optional.” Some of the more nationally known schools on the list are New York University, Brandeis, Skidmore and Sarah Lawrence.