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Colleges may consider SAT scores optional

A new research study conducted by Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor of sociology, and Chang Young Chung, a statistical programmer, both from Princeton University, finds that dropping standardized test scores as an admissions requirement will lead to increased percentages of minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students admitted to college.

The research will be formally presented next month at a conference at Wake Forest University regarding college admission.

The study is based on a variety of models, all using actual admissions data the from institutions studied, and patterns in applications once institutions switch to SAT-optional.

In the modeling, the researchers assumed that at the SAT-optional colleges, those with high SAT scores would continue to submit them and be helped by them.

The researchers also noted that there would be no advantage for having high SAT scores only at institutions with “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies.

The models showed that at the private colleges studied with a mean SAT score of 1405, the percentage of admitted applicants who are black would increase from 8 percent to 11 percent in the scenario in which more minority students apply and the SAT becomes optional. In this scenario, if the SAT is not considered at all, the percentage of admitted applicants who are black would go up to 13.8 percent.

For Latino students, the percentage would go from roughly 8 percent to 10.6 percent in an SAT-optional system and to 12 percent when the SAT is not considered.

Espenshade noted some caveats to the study, finding in particular that if the application pools do not increase, there is some danger, he said, that colleges might not have as many academically talented but test-averse applicants.

Joanna Dickert, coordinator of Student Affairs and teaching professor of the university-wide studies course Privilege, Responsibility and Community, said, “It is important to consider the type of preparedness that such tests actually measure. I think it also depends on how first-year student success is defined.

“To create a community that not only embraces diversity but facilitates the personal and professional success of its members, it is important that colleges and universities ensure that there are resources in place to support students throughout their campus experience. In order to be a community, they must be engaging one another intellectually and cultivating relationships in meaningful ways that allow all individuals to think critically about the cultural lens through which they experience the world,” she said.

“There should be some correlation between the test and performance,” said Gordon Weinber, a statistics professor at Carnegie Mellon. “The correlation is not perfect, but certainly not zero. As we have seen with the recent election, when intelligence and reason are applied, what has been previously called affirmative action could be a good thing.”

“Someone underqualified should not take the place of someone more qualified [at a university],” said Sean Lawley, a senior mathematics major and teaching assistant. “Race should not affect admissions at all; the finite resources for research and learning should be put forth to the best students in those schools. They should consider the best means to evaluate talent and use that.”

There is no word yet on which universities are considering making the SAT score optional on undergraduate applications.