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Admission Counseling Commission Endorses Optional SAT/ACT Admissions Requirements

A commission convened by the National Association for College Admission Counseling is calling for colleges and universities to drop the use of the SAT or ACT as a requirement for admission, stating that a “one-size fits all” approach for the use of standardized test does not reflect the realities facing the nation’s many and varied colleges and universities.

The commission, led by Dr. William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University, challenges the higher education community to re-evaluate the significance of exams that are more likely to predict the household income of a particular student, some scholars say, than a student’s performance in college.

As long as institutions require standardized tests, the commission says, the test preparation industry will thrive, skewing the overall purpose of the exam, which is designed to measure how much a student learned in high school and not how well they’ve been coached.

Fitzsimmons suggests colleges and universities rely more heavily on admissions exams tied to high school curricula, such as the College Board’s SAT II subject test, Advanced Placement tests or International Baccalaureate examinations. These tests better report what a student has learned in class.

The report indicates students with higher socioeconomic statuses benefit from test preparation, which helps raise their scores, while students without the financial means are “penalized for lower test scores.”

The commission also proposes colleges and universities abandon “cut scores,” or minimum admission test scores, for merit aid eligibility. Moreover, the commission strongly urges the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to stop using PSAT scores as an “initial screen for eligibility,” citing the scarcity of aid and the advantage affluent students have in accessing test preparation courses.

The commission encourages admissions professionals to comprehensively “understand the differences in test scores among different groups of people” and assess the use of standardized test scores relative to the broader social goals of higher education.

The commission expresses its concern that test scores appear to “calcify differences based on race, class and parental educational attainment.”

Data show admission test scores may be over predictive of first-year grade point averages for some minority students and under predictive of first-year GPAs for some female students.

The research also suggests that differences among racial and socioeconomic subgroups persist across a wide range of educational indicators.

The commission urges NACAC, an association of college admission and financial aid officers and enrollment managers, pursue relationships with academic researchers and foundations that may support an extended “objective assessment” of the effects of test coaching methods to provide current, unbiased information to colleges and universities.

According to Fitzsimmons, there is substantive data that can assist states, school districts and schools’ design measurements of “college readiness.” A single admission exam inadequately assesses the college readiness of a particular student, the commission acknowledges. The strength of the school’s curriculum and students’ engagement and performance in the subject matter is a better indicator of college success.

The commission’s recommendations on the use of standardized tests in undergraduate admissions express similar recommendations long advocated by FairTest and other assessment reformers.

“The NACAC report accurately captures the concerns about test score misuse and overuse shared by many high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers,” says FairTest Executive Director Jesse Mermell. “The test scores obsession is undermining both equity and educational quality in our nation’s schools.”

According to the commission, more than 280 four-year colleges do not require standardized test scores for admission. Among them are North Carolina’s Smith College, Wake Forest University and Lawrence University in Maine. More than 40 institutions have dropped admissions testing requirements for all or most applicants in the past four years.

The commission’s report comes on the heels of a recent College Board announcement publicizing that 2008 SAT test-takers, the largest and most diverse SAT test-taking class in history, failed to improve their scores from the previous year’s class. In fact, scores on the college entrance exam fell to their lowest level since the late 1990s last year.

In response to the commission’s findings, FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer adds, “We expect the ACT/SAT optional list to continue growing as more institutions recognize that the tests remain biased, coachable, educationally damaging and irrelevant to sound admissions practices.”

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