SEATTLE – For 18-year-old Enrique Mora, a good SAT score was supposed to be one of the high-stakes barometers that would help determine how he would spend his life after high school.
Mora, a high school student from Port Angeles, Washington, knew that in order to get into a good college he had to take advanced courses and score well on a standardized test. So he gathered some free test preparation material and studied hard.
But last fall, when standardized testing sites were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mora panicked. He had not yet taken the SAT, which is usually required to enter Washington University, his first choice. He started to think about community college. And he remembered conversations he had had with military recruiters, which had encouraged him to enlist.
Then, good news: After applying to UW, he learned that the university would not require a standardized test score for admission to the new class of 2021.
On Tuesday, this policy became permanent in all quadrennial public institutions in Washington.
As of fall 2021, UW, Washington State University, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Evergreen State College, and Western Washington University will permanently become an “optional test”. Students can submit scores, but they will not be penalized during the admission process if they fail to do so; Admissions officers say a high score could benefit a student who would not be offered admission otherwise, but the scores generally will not be used. And the scores will not determine the ability of students to earn scholarships or be placed in specialized university programs.
The policy change follows similar initiatives by public universities in Oregon, California and many other public and private colleges across the country, and comes at the same time UW announced that nearly 49,000 students have applied for admission. next year, its largest pool of applicants.
The pandemic has made such testing nearly impossible, but the permanent end of testing requirements indicates a profound change in the way universities think about who to admit, experts say.
“Washington is doing it now, which is great,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, vice-provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University and author of a higher education blog that focuses on data and information. university policies. “Essentially (along) the entire west coast, you don’t need standardized tests to apply to public universities.”
For decades, high-stakes tests have been viewed as unbiased indicators of students’ academic ability. A high score might encourage them to apply to a wider choice of colleges – or nix their luck in terms of economic or social mobility. But college admissions officials and academics are increasingly questioning the usefulness of these scores. The data suggests that a student’s GPA or a student’s complete academic record are better predictors than standardized tests of their success in college.
Standardized tests aren’t the great EQ they are supposed to be, according to several experts. A stellar score could reflect a student’s innate academic talents – or it could demonstrate the time and money they had to put into rigorous test preparation. A low score may indicate anxiety about the test. Or for a student learning English, it could show that their language skills are still emerging.
“We think it would be better for our candidates to spend all that extra time studying for their courses or doing courses, or maybe taking an extra course rather than spending more time studying for this test,” which in the diagram of a person’s life is only “a few hours a day,” said Paul Seegert, director of admissions at UW.
Mora, the oldest of five siblings, “bounced back a lot” in the years after his parents moved the family from Idaho to Washington when he was about 13 years old. As a freshman in high school he worked as a dishwasher and waiter. He thought, “If I want to do anything other than that, I have to work on it. The study is therefore a priority.
Her parents, who both dropped out of high school but went on to earn GEDs, are her greatest cheerleaders. When Mora weighed a future in the military, he said, “My father dissuaded me, saying he could support me if I decided to go to college.”
Mora knew that funding college would be difficult for her family; military recruiters told him he would rack up a lot of debt. But he worked to tick all the boxes he could, like getting good grades and applying for scholarships.
When the application season started in the fall, Mora crossed his fingers and applied to UW without submitting a SAT score. He hoped that he could eventually pass the test.
“When I saw that the SAT was optional, it was a relief,” he said. Fortunately, he said, he was accepted.
UW offered him direct admission to the university’s College of Engineering, and Mora received tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. University isn’t just possible for Mora – it will be affordable.
The new optional testing policies will be “huge” for students like Mora, said Rosalynn Guillen, who works with Mora and other students as a college leaving coach at the College Success Foundation, a goal-oriented organization. nonprofit that helps first-generation, low-income students graduate. high school and college.
“Not having to worry about this (test) is a huge hurdle lifted so that they can focus on their (college) referrals, their community service, all the other things that shed more light on the type of. ‘student that they will be in the institution where they choose to go,’ she said.
Make the university more accessible
In the mid-2010s, the University of Puget Sound was the first university in Washington to take an optional test. An enrollment task force reviewed the university’s admissions policies and decided that removing this requirement would make the college more accessible, especially for people from low-income backgrounds and students from across the country. color.
Six years later, the university is seeing gradual progress: around 28% of freshmen are students of color, up from 20.4% the year before the voluntary testing policy was put in place.
Standardized tests can be real barriers to admission, said Matt Boyce, vice president for college enrollment. But “sometimes it’s just perception,” he said, suggesting that a score requirement might deter some students from applying.
The university’s pool of applicants has diversified over time, he said. But Boyce cautions against the idea that elective testing policies are a silver bullet: The fact that students from more diverse backgrounds are applying could be attributed to a set of policy changes the university has made around the world. when she made the test results optional, he mentioned.
“Just deciding to make an institutional test optional is not going to move the needle,” he said. This “does not instantly allow students who have been traditionally marginalized, underserved and under-represented to suddenly feel empowered to access and be part of these institutions.”
It is difficult to predict how the optional testing policy changes affect who applies to Washington public colleges and who is ultimately accepted and enrolled. Studies of voluntary testing policies have yielded mixed results. An April study of nearly 100 private schools suggests that optional testing policies have done little to improve fairness in admissions, according to some previous studies. But the largest study to date found the opposite.
At UW, test results were part of a “holistic exam” used by admissions officers. Admission decisions were made using “the full academic picture, not just strictly GPA and test scores,” said David Sundine, associate director of admissions for UW operations, who oversees the holistic exam at university.
The school also examines whether students are improving over time and whether they have challenged themselves. For this reason, he said, just suppressing the test results “hasn’t changed our job much.”
The change is supported by data from the university: over time, the value of the SAT has become increasingly low to predict the performance of freshmen. “It was a change that was overdue, quite frankly,” Sundine said.
Seegert said he hopes making the test scores optional will encourage students who may not have applied to consider doing so.
But the pandemic has turned many aspects of young people’s lives upside down, including their family responsibilities or their ability to pay for college education, making it difficult to analyze these factors of the effect of voluntary testing policies over the years. to come up.
“It’s going to be really hard to try to determine,” Seegert said.