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Survey Shows Uptick in Test-Optional Colleges

There is good news for high school students who don't think their ACT or SAT scores best tell colleges the story of their potential: More schools are going test optional.

The latest survey from The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, which was released this week, shows 850 institutions don't require applicants to submit scores from the ACT or SAT. In the last year, 25 more schools have adopted test-optional policies, including Wesleyan University in Middleton, Conn., Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y., and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

(Click here for a complete list.)

Looking at the acceptance of test-optional policies in the past decade, typically fewer than 10 colleges have been added each year. Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, said schools are rejecting the tests as a useful tool in the admissions process. He said the uptick in policy changes this year suggests that some colleges are not convinced that the revised SAT, scheduled to debut next spring, will deliver meaningful change.

According to the College Board, in a recent survey of college admissions and enrollment leaders, 90 percent of respondents support the redesigned SAT. "The College Board will continue to work with colleges and universities—many of whom are our members—to support greater access to opportunities," according to Jim Montoya, vice president of higher education and international for the College Board in an email response.

The upcoming changes to the SAT were not a factor in Temple University's decision to go test optional, said Ray Betzner, a spokesman for the university.

"The university is responding to the growing body of research evidence that shows high school GPA, class rank, and 'noncognitive' factors (such as a student's grit, determination, and self-confidence) are more reliable predictors of college success," Temple explained on its Web site last summer when announcing its new Temple Option policy.

Administrators at Wesleyan said they were unconvinced that the ACT and SAT were solid predictors of college success and voiced concern that the tests unfairly advantage privileged applicants, according to a news story on the school's Web site.

Hofstra University addressed questions about its new policy online and noted the best predictor of success in college is a student's academic record and the track record of day-to-day work in the classroom.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recommends that colleges and universities independently evaluate their use of standardized admission tests and determine whether the test scores added to their ability to predict a student's success at the institution. If the test scores did not provide much in the way of added predictive power, a NACAC commission that reviewed their use in 2008 said schools should consider dropping the tests as a requirement.

"Nearly seven years after the commission concluded its work, it is possible that an increasing number of colleges are coming to the conclusion that the tests do not provide significant predictive power beyond what they already know from high school grades," said David Hawkins, the executive director for educational content and policy for the Arlington, Va.-based organization, in an email response. "As always, our guidance to students is to seek institutions that present the right fit, regardless of whether the institution requires admission tests."

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