Matt’s Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

May 01, 2018

A major new study into the impact of test optional policies, Defining Access, has just been released. The study focuses on the relative outcomes of students who had actively chosen to be non-submitters of SAT/ACT scores versus those who chose to submit scores.

Co-authors Steve Syverson (28-year Dean of Admissions at Lawrence University), Valerie Franks (former Assistant Dean of Admissions at Bates College), and Bill Hiss (Dean of Admissions at Bates College for 34 years), assessed nearly one million student records shared by 28 US colleges and universities (24 of which were private institutions, and 4 public). The study found that students who submitted SAT scores (or ACT scores converted to their concordant SAT scores) had a 144-point score advantage (1226 versus 1082) over non-submitters, and found that the cumulative college GPA among test score-submitting college graduates was 3.40, versus 3.23 for students who did not submit scores. However, they also found that students who had not submitted test scores actually graduated from college at slightly higher rates (79% versus 76.4% for the 4-year graduation rate).

These figures indicate that submitters' SAT scores were more than 13% higher than those of non-submitters, but their cumulative college GPA of students who graduated from college was only 5% higher for test score submitters than for non-submitters.


…this study helps to punctuate the question of what is meant when we refer to “success in college,” a phrase frequently used to argue for the predictive value of the SAT and ACT. There is general agreement that those tests, when used in conjunction with high school grades, do a marginally better job than high school grades alone of predicting the First Year College GPA of students. However, whether they predict evenly across populations of students has been widely debated. And an increasing number of voices are challenging the notion that predicting whether a student is likely to achieve, say a 3.3 GPA versus a 3.2 at the end of their first year in college is synonymous with predicting “success in college,” and are rejecting that phrase as an obfuscation of the actually limited value of the tests.

NPR has published an article written by Claudio Sanchez about Defining Access: Study: Colleges That Ditch The SAT And ACT Can Enhance Diversity.

Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed has published a look at recent test optional developments, including the Defining Access study: Making the Case for Test Optional


The conclusion of the new report says the findings show that tests indeed fail to identify talented applicants who can succeed in higher education -- and that applicants who opt not to submit scores are in many cases making wise decisions. The test-optional movement, they write, reflects a broader shift in society away from "a narrow assessment" of potential.

MarketWatch also weighed in on the Defining Access study, and the article includes many quotes from the study’s co-author Steve Syverson (assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at the University of Washington-Bothell) in the article:


“These are groups that traditionally have felt that the scores didn’t serve them well,” Syverson said. Though testing companies have done a better job over the past several years of eliminating bias from the test questions, standardized test scores are still strongly correlated with income and parental education, Syverson said. That indicates students who come from under-resourced schools and can’t necessarily afford test prep services may be at a disadvantage when it comes to taking the test.

That knowledge, combined with the study’s findings — which suggest that admissions officers can tell who will succeed at their schools even without standardized test scores — cast doubt on our fixation with standardized tests, Syverson said.

“When you think about all the money and emotional stress that is associated with these test scores in our society,” Syverson said, “we’re not sure it’s worth it.”

But there is likely a cost to allowing students to apply without standardized test scores. The study finds that introducing the test-optional policies are correlated with an increasing level of need among needy students. That means if colleges want to enroll this group, they may need to spend more money than in the past to support them. “You probably need to be willing to step up with some additional financial aid to make this really work well for you,” Syverson said.

Eric Hoover at The Chronicle of Higher Education has also published an article (subscription required) about the Defining Access study: The Truth About Test-Optional Policies: ‘There’s Not Just One Truth’

Scott Jaschik has also written an article (The Campus-Based Studies on Test Optional) that outlines recent reports of the effects of the adoption of test optional policies on the student body at three universities: George Washington University, Wake Forest University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. All three institutions showed significant increases in the number of applicants, in the percentage of underrepresented minority enrollees, and a very similar college GPA and graduation rate among test score submitters and non-submitters.

The Daily Californian (an independent paper published by UC Berkeley students) has published an op-ed titled Has the SAT changed enough to be worth using in college admissions?


...everything shifted for me, during the hours of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in a mundane, fluorescently lit, poorly air-conditioned Spanish classroom at a local high school. I likely won’t remember a single meaningful detail of it for the rest of my life, but during that four-hour stretch, I completed a task which would prove more valuable, more momentous, to my collegiate pursuit than any other equivalent time period of my entire life.

I took the SAT.

Nearly three years after I walked into a foreign language classroom, sharpened No. 2 pencils in hand, and took a standardized test, I understand that the SAT is probably the reason I got into UC Berkeley. That is also probably exactly the reason why it, along with similar standardized tests used in admissions decisions such as the ACT, needs to be eliminated.

Because, though I was not fully aware of it at the time, the SAT was a setup. Through no genuine effort of my own, the odds I would do well on the test, before I even sat down in my chair, were higher than for most of my peers. Largely because of two factors I have not worked for a second in my life to achieve — race and the socioeconomic status of my family — I was predisposed to succeed on a test that almost every university (UC Berkeley included) values at least in part of the college admissions process. In the crapshoot that is college admissions, I sent my application in with loaded dice. Thousands of equally deserving and more deserving candidates never got a seat at the table.