SAT optional colleges on the rise


Jan. 28, 2007, midnight | By Maya Calabrese | 13 years, 5 months ago

Optional SAT to de-emphasize the importance of standardized tests


With the increased use of standardized tests to measure students' academic abilities, colleges across the nation are working to divert the attention away from the SAT and on to other components of students' profiles.

When the SAT was first administered in 1926, it was used to measure natural ability, rather than knowledge acquired through schooling. Over time, its focus has shifted on to the skills students' learned in school that they will need in college. The SAT, as advertised by College Board, a testing service that administers several standardized exams, is now a measure of critical thinking skills, assessing how well students analyze and solve problems.

For senior Blazers picking and choosing their top college preferences, whether or not a school requires the SAT has become a key factor to consider.

Trend starter

Over 20 years ago, Bates College in Maine declared themselves a SAT/ACT optional school. Kristen Belka, Associate Dean of Admissions at Bates, attributed Bates's decision to wanting to encourage more students to apply without the stress of standardized tests, namely the SAT. "We felt that there would be great students who wouldn't apply because we required the SAT and we wanted to find out who we were missing out on," explained Belka.

As of October 2003, there are 730 U.S. colleges that do not require SAT or ACT scores. Among these 730 colleges are 24 of the top 100 liberal arts colleges, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. This compares to the almost 400 colleges that were SAT optional as of 2001. The change marks a 55 percent increase in a two-year time span, and the number is only growing. Recent colleges who have joined the list include Gustavus Adolphus College, George Mason University, Drew University, Hamilton College and Providence College.

"The subjective side"

Instead of looking at test scores, many of these colleges have shifted their focus to the academic profile of applicants. Students' course lists and the grades that they received in those courses is one of the most important aspects. Other parts of the application that have greater weight than standardized tests are writing samples, the interview, extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations. "We look at the subjective side more carefully," said Belka.

Bates, like all SAT optional colleges, will accept SAT scores if students chose to submit them. "We like to leave it up to the students," said Belka. This process has worked for Bates, who has found that there is little difference in the academic performance of students who submit their SAT/ACT score and those who do not.

Bates conducted a 20-year study of the academic differences between University students who submitted their scores and who did not. They found that the average college GPA of a submitter is 3.11, while the average college GPA of a non-submitter is 3.06. "Once they are here at Bates, they do equally well," explained Belka. The difference in Bates graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters is 0.1 percent.

The fight

Colleges are not the only group to assemble against the SAT, as some organizations have chose to fight against the college exam. The most prominent of these is FairTest, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the false notions surrounding standardized tests. One such notion is that what is worth teaching is only that which can be assessed by a standardized test.

"The U.S. has gone test crazy; schools have become test centers," said Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of FairTest. "They use tests to determine graduation, university admission, almost everything."

To spread their beliefs, FairTest does public education work, passes out factual material and has a web site. By reaching out to the public, FairTest hopes they can encourage parents, students and teachers to advocate replacement of tests. "We work for fair, accurate, open and meaningful assessments and to eliminate the biases and other flaws of the standardized test," said Schaeffer.

Some organizations still oppose the idea of SAT optional college admission. "When a school drops the SAT they lose an important measurement of student abilities," defended Caren Scoropanos, a spokesperson of College Board. "It's an important objective national standard because an A in one state may not be an A in another," she said.

With an assortment of SAT optional colleges in all 50 states, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico, Blazers can find the campus and surrounding they want without feeling stress from the SAT.




Maya Calabrese. Maya is a SSEEENNNIIOOORRR! Her guilty pleasures include MTV, chocolate, boys and blasting music in her granny mobile with the windows down. More »

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