By Jen Maldonado
In the past, the SAT was always thought to be an integral part of the college application process for high school seniors. Now, more higher education institutions are turning toward a test-optional policy in which prospective students wouldn’t have to submit their standardized test scores, something which has been a topic of discussion at Rider.
The University Academic Policy Committee (UAPC) All-Faculty Forum, which took place on March 12, focused on the idea of Rider potentially adopting a test-optional policy for high school seniors interested in applying to the university. Currently, about 850 schools have shifted over to this policy, including The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Drew , Georgian Court, Ithaca, Marist and Wagner, all of which cross-enroll with Rider.
“The pros [of going test optional] are we recognize other talents of poor test performers and it does increase the ability to get diverse applications,” said Jamie O’Hara, vice president of Enrollment Management. “The cons are that we’re treating the overall pool unfairly because some people will submit and others won’t, and those who don’t submit are the ones who did not do well on the test.”
A UAPC subcommittee has met eight times so far to discuss how the university would go about switching over to this policy and if it would be an effective change for Rider. The committee has mostly looked at the schools similar to Rider and examined how these colleges made the shift and what they determined was important when it comes to deciding the criteria that will be used to pick applicants.
O’Hara explained the criteria Rider currently uses for admitting students at both campuses and presented the proposed test-optional policy. Right now, when a high school senior applies to the Lawrenceville campus, his or her application is based on 100 points. There is 50% priority given to high school GPA, 40% to test scores such as the SAT and ACT and 10% on discretionary. If a student applies to the Westminster campus, 35% is based on high school GPA, 35% on test scores, 20% on his or her audition and 10% go to discretionary.
The proposed test-optional criteria for the Lawrenceville campus would see a shift in the importance of high school GPA, which would be worth 55 points, and would impact the type of scholarship given to students, according to O’Hara. Academic quality is the next section, which would be comprised of 35 points, broken down into three sections. In the first part,10 points would be given for academic units completed, in which students could receive two points minimum for 16 academic units completed and 10 points maximum for 21 or more academic units completed. The second section would be quality of academic courses in which 20 points would be awarded depending on how many college prep, honors and AP classes the student took. The final section would be the student’s grade trend — whether he or she had improved academically throughout his or her four years in high school — in which up to five points could be awarded. The points given to the discretionary aspect would remain the same.
There aren’t any proposed standards for the Westminster campus yet, something O’Hara addressed.
“We didn’t get that far with Westminster [criteria] because we want some time to work with faculty on that campus to get a better sense of what they’re looking for,” he said.
Students interviewed agreed that SAT and ACT test scores do not predict how well someone will do during his or her first year at college.
“SATs aren’t always a clear example of a student’s potential,” said freshman elementary education and psychology major Mehgan Forkel. “I didn’t do well on the math section of the SAT but I did well overall in my math courses throughout high school. I graduated in the National Honor Society and had a 3.66 GPA, but my SAT scores were only just above average. So I don’t think it’s necessary for students to have to send in their scores if they don’t want to.”
Junior secondary education and history major Lindsay O’Mara agreed.
“I feel as though some colleges focus too much on how well you do on one standardized test when they should be looking at things more as a whole,” she said. “If a student does well in all of their classes, makes the honor roll, is involved in their high school, but doesn’t perform so well on the SATs, their acceptance shouldn’t depend so heavily on that one score. On the other hand, if a student hasn’t done so well in their classes or made an effort to participate in extracurricular activities, but they do well on the SATs, it could be their only chance at a higher education. Making it optional to send in these scores though gives students greater flexibility in the academic profile they present to the school.”
The UAPC committee does an annual study in which College Board is given the GPAs of students after their first year at Rider. College Board gives the university information on how the student was accepted, including their SAT score averages. Recently, the committee took this study a bit further and looked at the report without the SAT information to see how the freshman class performed.
“Always, high school GPA is a better predictor,” O’Hara said. “One of the things we tested was if we should look at just high school GPA alone. We found if high school GPA was under 2.5, the student was going to perform in that range. If it was above a 2.5, the student had a higher GPA their first year.”
The study only looked at those who enrolled and did not include the students who were admitted and didn’t attend or those who were rejected. Also, the high school GPAs were not recalculated since the SAT scores were taken out. All of these are factors O’Hara said he felt needed to be included and were limitations of the study.
Schools similar to Rider that have the same students applying to them have been making the switch, such as TCNJ, Rider’s neighboring institution. TCNJ will begin a test-optional policy for the fall 2013 semester for the fine and performing arts. Students applying in one of the majors such as fine arts, graphic design, digital arts, art education, interactive multimedia, music, music performance and music education will not be required to submit SAT or ACT scores. Instead, extra emphasis will be placed on their high school transcripts, extracurricular involvement and audition for music applicants or portfolio results for art applicants.
Although it seems more universities are turning to this test-optional policy, only about 15%-20% of the applicant pool decide not to send their scores when they apply, according to the UAPC’s findings from looking at these schools. Rider, which had a 5% applicant increase this year, doesn’t seem ready to make the shift over into forgetting about SAT and ACT scores just yet, O’Hara said.
“The reason we’re looking at it is because we were asked about it by guidance counselors, current students and families,” O’Hara said. “SAT optional was not something we wanted to push because it’s not something we need right now, but it’s something the committee needs to make decisions about if we truly want to accept this process.”
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