Why Aren’t More Colleges Test Optional?

Since the inception of the SAT in 1926, the admission world has debated (19762001200820152018, 2019) the impact of and validity of the SAT (and later the ACT, CLT, CCTST, etc) on the pool of applicants and enrolled students at a Captureuniversity. Recently, more and more colleges have been asking themselves should they diminish the role of testing in their admission process and declare a test optional admissions policy. This debate has heated up recently with the release of Measuring Success: Testing, Grades, and the Future of College Admissions and the announcement of the University of Chicago’s test optional policy causing many institutions to look inward at their use of test scores. However, the question of whether colleges and universities should stop using the SAT and ACT might just be the wrong question. It’s certainly the wrong question at a particular set of schools. While there are some schools where the additional predictive information (generally .02 to .1) from tests lends support to difficult admissions decisions, I think there are as many institutions that should be test optional but are holding on to the tests. In requiring these tests are these schools doing more harm than good to themselves? By holding on to these tests are these schools abdicating their duties to fairly evaluate all candidates and relinquishing that authority to the SAT and ACT?

This set of colleges, which I’ll describe later, should be looking more closely at what the value of the SAT and ACT (to their specific institution) and whether these tests provide any useful and valuable information given the current institutional priorities and applicant pools. Additionally, by shifting the burden of proof to the tests, the colleges reclaim their independent authority to control their admission standards and policies rather than ceding a substantial portion of that authority.

In short, why would schools let the SAT and ACT deprive their institutions of applicants and potential students without out requiring that these tests first provide substantial proof of their utility?

 

Test Scores

To make sure we’re all on the page, here is a slide from a recent presentation I did atCapture2 University of Denver Diversity Summit. You can see from the slide the basic scoring information on the ACT (I’ll use the ACT rather than both the SAT and the ACT for simplicity’s sake but the general principles are identical for both tests). The average ACT composite score ranges from 1 to 36, however, if a test-taker were to guess randomly on all questions that test-taker would score about a 12. This suggests that the “true” range of scores is from 12 – 36. Furthermore, only 4 out of every 25 test-takers scored below a 15 on the ACT in the 2018 testing year.  The partial percentile chart below shows the percentile of test-takers who scored below each composite score in 2018, as you can see very few people scored below a 14 or below. Let’s keep this in mind as we delve a little deeper into which schools might want to reconsider their testing policies.


Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 1.30.36 PM

 

Test Optional in All But Name 

Given that an ACT score of 12 is essentially what a 3 year old would score on the ACT if she had the fortitude and hand-eye coordination to fill it all in, it’s not a radical statement to say that colleges enrolling students with scores within one standard deviation of a 12 are in effect test-optional. They are placing little to no value on the score achieved by admitted students. I offer that at these institutions the ACT and SAT are essentially test optional “by score.” If a school is test-

optional “by score” and thus not using achievement on the test to make admissions decisions, then one might wonder why would such schools require the test (can they possibly be helpful for class placement?). It seems that many of these institutions are requiring the tests because that’s what other schools are doing or because it’s what they’ve always done. I’d love to see these schools take a closer look at how useful these tests are to predicting successful graduation or passing classes. If a school is not looking for a score that requires a demonstration of ability or even much effort then why bother requiring the test at all?

How big of a “problem” is this? How many institutions does this effect? Based on an analysis of the Common Data Set (a shared voluntary database of college admission and profile information) there are 204 schools where more than 20% of applicants enrolling were admitted with ACT scores of 12 – 17. These colleges represent almost 10% of the institutions that report their admission data to CDS. This is a substantial number of “test optional by score” schools that are making students pretend to take this $50+ test for what seems like little or no reason.  Given all the pressures and challenges, especially to low income students, one might think these institutions might want to reconsider these policies.

One might argue that some schools use the SAT and ACT for advising or placement, but to me that is an argument against requiring the tests in the admission process rather than for. First, the tests are not designed to be placement exams and thus assess a range of curriculum that is likely well beyond the scope of any single college level math or english class. Given that multiple placement tests exists (Accuplacer and ACT CollegeReady, for instance), it seems odd to use the wrong tool for the job. Second, requiring the test in the admission process but not using it for admissions muddles an already confusing process and creates an additional barrier for low income and underserved students. Finally, this puts, perhaps unfairly, the costs and logistics of taking the test on applicants rather than on the university (which would pay for a placement test given to enrolled students).

Here is the full list of schools reporting 20% or more of their admitted students having 12 – 17 score on the ACT.

 

Institution Name ACT Scores Composite 25th ACT Scores Composite 75th ACT Scores Percent Between 12-17
Texas Woman’s University 17 17 100
Lane College 14 16 81
Shaw University 13 16 76.47
Rust College 14 21 75
Jarvis Christian College 70
Central State University 15 18 70
Univsersity of Arkansas at Pine Bluff 14 18 68
Talladega College 16 19 64
Penn State Schuylkill 16 19 64
Prairie View A&M University 15 19 60.03
Virginia State University 15 19 60
Mississippi Valley State University 15 19 60
Claflin University 15 19 59
Gallaudet University 15 20 59
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania 14 21 58
Bloomfield College 15 19 58
University of Maine-Fort Kent 15 19 57
Lincoln University (MO) 15 20 54.85
California State University-Dominguez Hills 15 19 54.37
Alabama A&M University 16 19 53.21
Albany State University 16 19 53
Huston-Tillotson University 14 19 53
Rosemont College 15 20 52
Lincoln University (PA) 16 21 51.92
California State University–San Bernardino 16 20 50.2
California State University-Los Angeles 15 20 50.1
College of St. Joseph in Vermont 17 23 50
University of Maine at Machias 15 25 50
Southern University and A&M College 15 18 49
Alcorn State University 16 20 48
Mount Olive College 15 20 48
Northeastern Illinois University 16 20 47.7
University of Virginia’s College at Wise 16 21 47
Woodbury University 16 21 45.4
University of Houston-Victoria 15 19 44
Georgian Court University 17 23 44
Thomas College 13 22 44
Penn State Mont Alto 17 24 42.86
Penn State Worthington Scranton 17 21 42.86
Five Towns College 16 24 42
Dominican College 42
Saint Peter’s University 16 21 41.94
Keystone College 17 22 41.2
Neumann University 17 19 41.18
Averett University 17 21 41
Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) 17 21 41
California State University–East Bay 16 21 41
California University of Pennsylvania 16 22 41
William Peace University 16 21 40.9
California State University, Stanislaus 16 21 40.6
Warner Pacific College 16 22 40
Rhode Island College 16 21 40
University of Houston-Downtown 16 20 39.71
Jackson State University 17 20 39
Marymount College 16 22 39
Indiana State University 16 22 38.75
Point University 17 22 37.97
North Carolina A&T State University 17 21 37
Barton College 37
Tennessee State University 18 21 36
Francis Marion University 17 22 35.5
Reinhardt College 17 22 35
Methodist University 17 23 35
Mount Saint Mary’s University 17 22 35
College of Mount Saint Vincent 18 22 35
St. Thomas Aquinas College 17 22 34.9
St. Thomas University 16.25 20.75 34.1
Chestnut Hill College 17 21 34.09
La Roche College 17 23 34
American International College 16 23 34
American Jewish University 17 22 33
Lourdes College 17 22 33
Hilbert College 17 22 33
California State University, Fresno 16 22 33
Anna Maria College 18 21 33
Vermont Technical College 33
Tuskegee University 18 23 32.6
Husson University 17 23 32
Gardner-Webb University 18 23 32
The University of Montana-Western 17 22 32
Kentucky State University 17 22 32
Rivier College 17 21 31.8
University of Texas-El Paso 17 22 31.7
Coker College 17 22 31
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania 17 23 31
Nichols College 17 23 31
Angelo State University 18 23 31
Eastern Oregon University 18 24 31
Oak Hills Christian College 16 21 30
State University of New York – Cobleskill 17 22 30
Bethany College (WV) 17 23 30
Hope International University 18 21 30
New England College 17 24 30
Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus 17 22 30
Fairmont State University, including Pierpont Community & Technical College 17 22 29.2
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke 18 22 29.03
University of Rio Grande 17 22 29
West Virginia University Institute of Technology 17 23 29
Mayville State University 17 22 29
La Sierra University 17 22 29
Notre Dame de Namur University 17 21 29
Cascade College 29
Central Wyoming College 17 22 29
The University of Texas-Pan American 17 21 28.9
Clayton College & State University 17 21 28
Stevenson University 18 23 28
Columbus State University 17 22 28
Oakland City University 17 23 28
MacMurray College 17 23 28
Kean University 17 22 28
Western Oregon University 17 23 27.95
Cairn University 17 24.3 27.78
Clarion University of PA 17 22 27.57
Adams State College 17 22 27.55
Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania 17 22 27.52
Radford University 17 22 27.5
Eastern Washington University 17 23 27.5
Lewis-Clark State College 17 22 27.08
Upper Iowa University 17 24 27
Southern Connecticut State University 17 22 27
Indiana University Southeast 17 23 26.9
Penn State Hazleton 17 25 26.67
Brevard College 17 22 26
Midway College 18 22 26
Missouri Valley College 19 27 26
Bryn Athyn College of the New Church 17.5 23 26
Toccoa Falls College 17 24 25.9
California State University-Sacramento 17 22 25.6
West Virginia State University 17 22 25.5
Northwood University, Texas Campus 17 22 25.43
Augusta University 17 21 25.4
Eastern New Mexico University 17 23 25.35
William Penn University 25
Pontifical College Josephinum 17 25 25
Clark Atlanta University 18 21 25
Indiana University-Purdue Univ. Fort Wayne 17 23 25
University of Baltimore 17 21 25
Dickinson State University 18 23 25
Wayland Baptist University 17.5 23 25
Cogswell College 20 24 25
Penn State Delaware County 18 26 25
Penn State Beaver 18 24 25
California State University, Monterey Bay 17 23 25
Southeastern University 18 23 24.65
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania 18 23 24.5
Indiana University Northwest 18 23 24.4
Indiana University East 18 23 24.3
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania 18 23 24.3
Alverno College 18 22 24.02
Shawnee State University 18 24 24
Defiance College 18 23 24
Colorado State University-Pueblo 18 22 24
Keuka College 18 23 24
Curry College 18 21 24
University of the Incarnate Word 18 23 24
Sterling College 19 24 24
McMurry University 18 22 24
Regis College 19 23 24
The Culinary Institute of America 17 23 24
Sierra Nevada College 17 25 23.52
Shorter College 18 24 23.2
Sweet Briar College 18 27 23
Webber International University 17 23 23
Columbia College (SC) 18 24 23
Concordia University (OR) 18 24 23
Catawba College 22.87
Indiana University South Bend 18 23 22.4
University of Pikeville 18 23 22
Southern Wesleyan University 18 22 22
Johnson State College 20 28 22
Marian University 18 22 22
Weber State University 18 24 22
Moore College of Art and Design 17 22 22
Louisiana College 18 23 21.8
Tiffin University 17 22 21.74
Southern New Hampshire University 18 24 21.6
Tarleton State University 18 23 21.48
San Francisco State University 18 24 21.11
Colby-Sawyer College 18 22 21
Campbellsville University 18 23 21
Concord University 17 25 21
University of Dubuque 18 23 21
Keene State College 18 24 21
Hampton University 19 24 21
Central Washington University 18 23 21
Mount Mary University 18 23 21
Park University 17 23 21
New Mexico State University 18 24 20.8
University of California – Merced 18 23 20.8
Manchester University 18 30 20.13
Illinois College 18 25 20.1
Cedar Crest College 18.75 24 20
VanderCook College of Music 20 25 20
Purdue University-Calumet 17 23 20
Old Dominion University 18 25 20
Marymount University 18 24 20
Blue Mountain College 18 23 20
Saint Joseph’s College (IN) 25 18 20
Muskingum College 18 24 20
Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University
20
Southeastern Oklahoma State University 18 23 20
University of Bridgeport 18 21 20
Thiel College 18 23 20
Penn State Shenango 19 22 20

 

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