How are colleges that ditched test scores for admission fairly choosing students?

Answer: They’re struggling to do so.

Colleges and universities that have adopted test-optional admissions policies — such as eliminating SAT and ACT testing requirements — are finding it harder to be fair in choosing students, reported Jill Barshay with The Hechinger Report.

Barshay reported on the research of Kelly Slay, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who has been “conducting in-depth interviews with admissions officers in 2022 to understand how the elimination of SAT and ACT testing requirements has been playing out inside colleges and universities.” As of October 2022, Slay and her research team had interviewed 22 admissions officers from 16 four-year colleges and universities — public, private, large, small, religious, non-religious. While four of the colleges eliminated testing requirements pre-COVID, the remaining 12 made the switch during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results of test-optional policies? A “chaotic” and “stressful” process that “lacked clear guidance on how to select students without test scores,” reports Barshay.

And such policies have failed at increasing the number of low-income students or students of color on campus, Barshay continues. A goal oft cited by supporters of the test-optional movement.

For example, one study published in 2021 found that the share of Black, Latino and Native American students increased by only 1 percentage point at about 100 colleges and universities that adopted the policy between 2005-06 and 2015-16. A separate study of a group of selective liberal arts colleges that adopted test-optional policies before 2011 didn’t find any didn’t find any diversity improvements on those campuses.

“One of the things we concluded is that test optional does not mean an increase in diversity — racial diversity or socio-economic diversity,” said Slay.

With test scores no longer being considered, admissions officers are left with things like letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities — metrics that admissions officers worry are “even more biased” than the perceived bias of standardized assessments (which is why colleges and universities say they removed their requirement).

And what about scholarships and course placements that are often determined by college entrance exam scores? “It was difficult for admissions officers to say that the test wasn’t still important,” writes Barshay.

Last session, Minnesota House DFLers introduced a bill that would prohibit the state’s colleges and universities from requiring, requesting, accepting or considering a student’s ACT or SAT test score for any purpose — including admissions, scholarships, and course credit. The bill was not scheduled for public hearing and died.

Average English, Math, and Composite American College Test (ACT) scores among Minnesota’s high school graduating class of 2022 are the lowest they have been in at least a decade.

Currently, there are over 1,800 colleges and universities with ACT/SAT-optional or test-free testing policies for fall 2023 applicants.