Since the inception of the SAT in 1926, the admission world has debated (1976, 2001, 2008, 2015, 2018, 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 university. 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 at 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 in all the bubbles on the Scantron, 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 NameACT Composite 25th ACT Composite 75thACT Composite % Between 12 and 17
Texas Woman’s University1717100
Lane College141681
Shaw University131676.47
Rust College142175
Jarvis Christian College70
Central State University151870
Univsersity of Arkansas at Pine Bluff141868
Talladega College161964
Penn State Schuylkill161964
Prairie View A&M University151960.03
Virginia State University151960
Mississippi Valley State University151960
Claflin University151959
Gallaudet University152059
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania142158
Bloomfield College151958
University of Maine-Fort Kent151957
Lincoln University (MO)152054.85
California State University-Dominguez Hills151954.37
Alabama A&M University161953.21
Albany State University161953
Huston-Tillotson University141953
Rosemont College152052
Lincoln University (PA)162151.92
California State University–San Bernardino162050.2
California State University-Los Angeles152050.1
College of St. Joseph in Vermont172350
University of Maine at Machias152550
Southern University and A&M College151849
Alcorn State University162048
Mount Olive College152048
Northeastern Illinois University162047.7
University of Virginia’s College at Wise162147
Woodbury University162145.4
University of Houston-Victoria151944
Georgian Court University172344
Thomas College132244
Penn State Mont Alto172442.86
Penn State Worthington Scranton172142.86
Five Towns College162442
Dominican College42
Saint Peter’s University162141.94
Keystone College172241.2
Neumann University171941.18
Averett University172141
Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU)172141
California State University–East Bay162141
California University of Pennsylvania162241
William Peace University162140.9
California State University, Stanislaus162140.6
Warner Pacific College162240
Rhode Island College162140
University of Houston-Downtown162039.71
Jackson State University172039
Marymount College162239
Indiana State University162238.75
Point University172237.97
North Carolina A&T State University172137
Barton College37
Tennessee State University182136
Francis Marion University172235.5
Reinhardt College172235
Methodist University172335
Mount Saint Mary’s University172235
College of Mount Saint Vincent182235
St. Thomas Aquinas College172234.9
St. Thomas University16.2520.7534.1
Chestnut Hill College172134.09
La Roche College172334
American International College162334
American Jewish University172233
Lourdes College172233
Hilbert College172233
California State University, Fresno162233
Anna Maria College182133
Vermont Technical College33
Tuskegee University182332.6
Husson University172332
Gardner-Webb University182332
The University of Montana-Western172232
Kentucky State University172232
Rivier College172131.8
University of Texas-El Paso172231.7
Coker College172231
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania172331
Nichols College172331
Angelo State University182331
Eastern Oregon University182431
Oak Hills Christian College162130
State University of New York – Cobleskill172230
Bethany College (WV)172330
Hope International University182130
New England College172430
Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus172230
Fairmont State University, including Pierpont Community & Technical College172229.2
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke182229.03
University of Rio Grande172229
West Virginia University Institute of Technology172329
Mayville State University172229
La Sierra University172229
Notre Dame de Namur University172129
Cascade College29
Central Wyoming College172229
The University of Texas-Pan American172128.9
Clayton College & State University172128
Stevenson University182328
Columbus State University172228
Oakland City University172328
MacMurray College172328
Kean University172228
Western Oregon University172327.95
Cairn University1724.327.78
Clarion University of PA172227.57
Adams State College172227.55
Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania172227.52
Radford University172227.5
Eastern Washington University172327.5
Lewis-Clark State College172227.08
Upper Iowa University172427
Southern Connecticut State University172227
Indiana University Southeast172326.9
Penn State Hazleton172526.67
Brevard College172226
Midway College182226
Missouri Valley College192726
Bryn Athyn College of the New Church17.52326
Toccoa Falls College172425.9
California State University-Sacramento172225.6
West Virginia State University172225.5
Northwood University, Texas Campus172225.43
Augusta University172125.4
Eastern New Mexico University172325.35
William Penn University25
Pontifical College Josephinum172525
Clark Atlanta University182125
Indiana University-Purdue Univ. Fort Wayne172325
University of Baltimore172125
Dickinson State University182325
Wayland Baptist University17.52325
Cogswell College202425
Penn State Delaware County182625
Penn State Beaver182425
California State University, Monterey Bay172325
Southeastern University182324.65
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania182324.5
Indiana University Northwest182324.4
Indiana University East182324.3
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania182324.3
Alverno College182224.02
Shawnee State University182424
Defiance College182324
Colorado State University-Pueblo182224
Keuka College182324
Curry College182124
University of the Incarnate Word182324
Sterling College192424
McMurry University182224
Regis College192324
The Culinary Institute of America172324
Sierra Nevada College172523.52
Shorter College182423.2
Sweet Briar College182723
Webber International University172323
Columbia College (SC)182423
Concordia University (OR)182423
Catawba College22.87
Indiana University South Bend182322.4
University of Pikeville182322
Southern Wesleyan University182222
Johnson State College202822
Marian University182222
Weber State University182422
Moore College of Art and Design172222
Louisiana College182321.8
Tiffin University172221.74
Southern New Hampshire University182421.6
Tarleton State University182321.48
San Francisco State University182421.11
Colby-Sawyer College182221
Campbellsville University182321
Concord University172521
University of Dubuque182321
Keene State College182421
Hampton University192421
Central Washington University182321
Mount Mary University182321
Park University172321
New Mexico State University182420.8
University of California – Merced182320.8
Manchester University183020.13
Illinois College182520.1
Cedar Crest College18.752420
VanderCook College of Music202520
Purdue University-Calumet172320
Old Dominion University182520
Marymount University182420
Blue Mountain College182320
Saint Joseph’s College (IN)251820
Muskingum College182420
Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University20
Southeastern Oklahoma State University182320
University of Bridgeport182120
Thiel College182320
Penn State Shenango192220

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