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College admissions without ACT, SAT scores could be future trend

Eye on education

MARQUETTE — Reduced use of standardized tests in the college admissions process has led some college officials to question their value as indicators of college readiness and success.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most college applicants in Michigan were required to take either the SAT or the ACT.

According to Robert LeFevre, the president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 25 private institutions, higher education institutions have temporarily suspended those requirements, allowing new admissions processes.

“A number of the schools nationally went remote so students weren’t able to take the SAT or the ACT,” LeFevre said. “At least for the short term, a number of (colleges) decided to go SAT and ACT-optional.”

According to Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities,representing 15 public universities, only about 60% of high school juniors took the SAT in 2020. That number normally hovers around 100%, he said.

“There’s been an overwhelming trend on the part of the state universities to wave the submission of test results for this fall’s class and even subsequent classes,” Hurley said.

Lee Furbeck, the executive director of admissions at Central Michigan University, says the school has gone test-optional on a temporary basis.

“Students are having a difficult time accessing tests, so we will consider a student with or without test scores,” Furbeck said. “We were test-optional on our 2021 terms and we will be again for our 2022 terms.”

According to Furbeck, CMU is making admissions decisions “based on factors such as the high school grade point average, the courses the students took and the rigor of their coursework and their core course grades.

“We will admit a student based on either a combination of test score and high school GPA or just high school GPA, whichever one most benefits the student,” Furbeck said. “We’re making sure that we’re admitting students who are most likely to succeed here.”

LeFevre said more students are applying for college now that standardized test scores aren’t used in the admissions process.

“There are so many more students willing to apply because they don’t have to worry about what they’ve been told is a bad score being a barrier for them to go,” LeFevre said. “At the moment it’s temporary, but we’re hoping to prove during this process that the number of applicants and the quality of applicants actually went up by eliminating the ACT and SAT.”

According to Colby Spencer Cesaro, the vice president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities, eliminating standardized testing requirements also affects who is willing to apply.

“A lot of the staff at the financial aid offices and admissions offices are saying that they’re getting a greater diversity of applicants because of dropping the test,” she said.

LeFevre and Spencer Cesaro both say they are hopeful that more schools will see the value of getting rid of standardized tests in their application process.

According to LeFevre, “The ACT and SAT are nothing more than a barrier to access. They were designed back when only 20% of students went to college and they only wanted 20% of students. It was a way to weed students out.”

LeFevre said students need some type of post-secondary education to be self-sufficient in today’s world.

“Less than 1% of the jobs that have been created since the Great Recession require a high school diploma or below,” LeFevre said. “If we keep telling kids starting in the third grade that they aren’t college material (based on standardized tests), we’ll never be able to move the needle up because we’re discouraging them from the get go.”

According to Spencer Cesaro, standardized tests aren’t the best way to predict college readiness.

Spencer Cesaro says that standardized testing companies advertise that meeting the “benchmarks” on their tests indicate how successful a student will be in a particular subject, but that statistics are too broad.

For the science portion of the ACT, for example, meeting the benchmark score predicts only “a 50% chance of a B or better in an introduction to biology freshman college class,” Spencer Cesaro said. “There’s a 25% confidence interval on either side, so you could have a 75% chance of getting a B or better or a 25% chance of getting a B or better. Those are terrible statistics.”

There are more effective ways to measure college readiness, she said. “If you look at GPA over time and you see that a student that goes from a 2 to a 3, or a 1.5 to a 2.8 on a four-point scale, that’s the type of thing you’re looking for.”

According to Spencer Cesaro, “With the SAT and the ACT you have to go through a company and all you get is some demographic information and that test score. We know that’s not the information that shows the type of individual and if the school is a good fit.”

LeFevre said that without standardized tests, admissions offices at private colleges should start to focus on the whole student, not just test scores.

“What they want to know is what your GPA was, what activities were you involved in, if you had a part-time job, or if you’re from a single parent household,” LeFevre said. “If there’s a C student from a single parent household that works 20 hours a week part time and is in band, I want that student in my school. Standardized tests don’t give you this information.”

Hurley says that the 15 state universities are also looking into other ways to evaluate college readiness.

“Ultimately what is happening is that there is going to be a greater focus on the part of college university admissions officers to focus on high school GPAs and other extracurricular activities as being stronger indicators for college success,” Hurley said.

According to LeFevre and Hurley, their associations are working with the College Access Network to create a way for high schools to share information with the institutions so they don’t have to go through private companies anymore.

LeFevre said, “If we can come up with a privacy-safe manner to share the information at the state level, we can essentially eliminate the middleman and get more information out to more students.”

Spencer Cesaro says that each public and private college or university sets its own admission criteria. If there’s an easier way to get information about potential applicants, the demand for standardized test scores may decrease, which will encourage more students to apply.

“In many instances many individuals look at SAT and ACT scores what they could never do instead of what they could do,” she said. “We need to change that rhetoric.”

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