The Fallacy of Testing-Optional Schools

Matt Larriva
Aug 18, 2014
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Since the trend began about two years ago, we have seen hundreds of schools convert to Testing-Optional. These schools will accept, but no longer require, a student to submit standardized test scores as part of his application. At present there are nearly 900 such schools. Fairstest.org composed a list here.

Because this policy is touted as egalitarian and a step away from the perceived, inherent biases in the SAT and ACT (bias toward household income, bias toward ethnicity) these schools’ Testing-Optional policies are receiving much in the way of media attention. Naturally, parents are wondering: is this the beginning of a trend?

In short: yes, but it is not to the students’ benefit, and it will not make admissions easier or more democratic.

The first issue that should cause concern is the rankings of the schools that have adopted the Testing-Optional policy. Every year, the Princeton Review publishes a list of the top 379 colleges. The Princeton Review compiles lists of the Top-20 schools in 62 different categories. The Top 379 is the summation of all of those schools. Of the 882 Testing-Optional schools, not even 8% made it into the top 379 list. Not a single of the 882 Testing-Optional schools were in US News & World’s list of top 100 colleges in the US. Phrased differently: of the 100 best colleges in the US, not a single one is testing optional. So one must ask: how many more opportunities is the Testing-Optional policy providing? The answer: not many.

But if the Testing-Optional policy is not increasing access to highly-ranked schools, is it making admissions more open to the lower-ranked schools? The goal of the policy is to evaluate a student on a more holistic basis. But how can the dismissal of an additional student-metric allow for a “more holistic” profile? How could removing one of the parts every make something more whole? Consider for a moment the type of student whom this policy benefits: it is only a student whose GPA does not match his SAT score: but why would a student’s SAT score not match his GPA? Which is the “true” metric? Why not throw out GPAs as a measure of admissions? Many argue that the SAT is biased by income, language, and cultural barriers, but all of those biases must also apply to all the contributors of GPA. Thus eliminating a point of consideration does little to level the playing field.

Then who is the beneficiary of the Testing-Optional policy if not the students? The schools, of course. One of the metrics that all ranking systems use to rank schools is their selectivity. Schools that go Testing-Optional increase their ranks by decreasing their acceptance rate. The following process occurs: schools become Testing-Optional, they receive media attention, students who have very-low standardized-test scores flock to them as potential matches, the schools have not increased their seats nor relaxed their GPA requirements, so those new applicants are rejected. Thus the Testing-Optional Schools appear to have a higher selectivity metric: fewer applicants are accepted.

Then the policy that has been touted as democratic and pro-student, has actually become a means for schools to increase their selectivity.