The move to test-optional admissions does not increase student body diversity, but it does help institutions climb national rankings in other ways, according to a study from the University of Georgia (UGA).
Researchers analyzed Department of Education data from 32 selective, liberal arts colleges with test-optional policies and found that they "enhance the appearance of selectivity, rather than the diversity, of adopting institutions."
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Colleges sometimes announce the switch to test-optional admissions as a tactic for improving diversity. They often note that low-income and minority students are at a disadvantage when it comes to standardized test scores, as those students often cannot afford test-prep programs. But test-optional policies don't appear to be the remedy, writes Stephen Burd for the Hechinger Report.
After making test scores optional, schools actually appear even more selective, receiving, on average 220 more applications. By rejecting more students, those schools lower their acceptance rates.
Meanwhile, students who performed well on the tests continue to submit their scores—but those who perform poorly do not. As a result, SAT and ACT scores reported to rankings such as U.S. News & World Report end up increasing, as well.
An institution's average SAT score jumps 26 points when going test-optional, according to the UGA report.
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This creates a domino effect as other colleges and universities feel pressure to remove test requirements from their admissions processes in order to remain competitive.
In fact, schools should just stop accepting standardized test scores entirely, Burd asserts.
However, U.S. News & World Report leaves schools without standardized test scores "unranked," a "major competitive disadvantage," Burd writes.
Sarah Lawrence University went SAT- and ACT-free for a decade but began accepting scores again in 2013. Even with their flaws, the rankings do help parents and students "recognize we are a national liberal arts college. It does not hurt to have that kind of recognition," Thomas Blum, Sarah Lawrence's VP of administration, told the Washington Post in 2014.
Currently, just one selective institution—Hampshire College—is "test-blind" (Burd, "Higher Ed Watch," Hechinger Report, 8/26).
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