Admissions association will help lead test-optional enrollment study

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Dive Brief:

  • Higher education’s top admissions association will spearhead a study examining how dropping the SAT and ACT as an entrance requirement affected college and university enrollment. 
  • The National Association for College Admission Counseling — through a $1.4 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant — will work with researchers who will review enrollment patterns of 150 four-year colleges, some of which adopted test-optional policies. 
  • The Equity Research Cooperative, a consultant, will also examine how test-optional practices influenced enrollment of Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian and low-income students through a survey and six case studies conducted at selective and minority-serving institutions.

Dive Insight:

The spread of the coronavirus turbocharged the test-optional and test-free movement, the latter of which refers to colleges that refuse to review assessment scores whatsoever.

As the pandemic shuttered the typical sites where students test, colleges adopted these policies, albeit some temporarily. Now, more than 1,800 colleges are not mandating entrance exams for fall 2022, including those institutions that were test-optional before the pandemic, according to FairTest, a group advocating for minimal use of such assessments.

Many institutions are experimenting with test-optional admissions and determining effects on enrollment, a step before some colleges make the policy permanent. 

Data from these pilots is beginning to emerge. The University of Missouri found first-year students admitted without the tests had similar retention rates and only slightly lower GPAs than those who submitted SAT or ACT scores.

Other research has attempted to capture the impact of test-optional admissions on a broader scale. One recent study of 99 private test-optional institutions found the policy is associated with a modest boost in the diversity of their student bodies. 

This is one advantage of test-optional admissions, opponents of entrance exams contend. They argue the SAT and ACT present barriers for vulnerable students and are weighted to wealthy students who can afford extensive tutoring. 

NACAC’s study differs from past research in that it will examine a swath of newly test-optional institutions, said Angel Pérez, the organization’s CEO. The study was first announced in February, but NACAC made its involvement in the project known Wednesday.

The study will allow higher education leaders to learn about the implications of test-optional policies, as well as give voice to underrepresented students undergoing admissions processes, Pérez said.

“What are the best practices in a post-testing world?” he said.

NACAC’s role will be to coordinate, Pérez said. That includes designing the project and convening researchers from the University of Maryland, College Park, and Colorado State, Pennsylvania State and Southern Methodist universities, to examine admissions trends at the 150 colleges. 

Pérez has been a public supporter of test-optional admissions. But he said he’s unconcerned about the perception of bias in the study because NACAC researchers aren’t conducting it.

NACAC has previously called for standardized testing scores to be removed as a metric for calculating U.S. News and World Report’s influential Best Colleges rankings. And it created a campaign called “test-optional means test-optional,” which asks colleges that adopted these policies to affirm they would not penalize applicants for not submitting scores.

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