Archive for March 24th, 2010

Standardized Test Redux

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

March 21, 2010

Colleges Explore Shades of Gray in Making Entrance Tests Optional

Ursinus College considered fairness and ideals as well as marketing and logistics

 Sarah Bones for The Chronicle 

Last year Richard DiFeliciantonio (right), vice president for enrollment at Ursinus College, hired a new admissions director, Richard Floyd, whose questions about the role of test scores prompted Ursinus to reconsider its stance.

By Eric Hoover

When a college stops requiring standardized admissions tests, no rainbow magically appears. Its endowment doesn’t grow, and its costs don’t shrink. Presidents still worry, professors still complain, and students still drink too much on Saturday nights.

Nonetheless, tales of going “test optional” often have a romantic tinge. In them, admissions deans, worried about equity and anxious teenagers, finally decide to do the right thing by casting off those terrible tests. After that, everything on the campus gets better.

Like many stories, this one invites other interpretations. A popular reading is that competition alone compels colleges to drop their ACT and SAT requirements. In this rendering, colleges care more about their image than anything else.

Fifteen years ago, colleges could still expect to make waves when they adopted test-optional policies. Over the last decade, however, dozens of private liberal-arts colleges have nixed their testing requirements, and these days the announcements cause more of a shrug than a splash.

Nonetheless, the choice remains controversial, often cast as either a noble move or a deceptive one.

In fact, the decision typically melds various motives, arising from a place where marketing and mission overlap. Data often drive a change of heart, but numbers alone don’t always explain why—or when—a college alters its testing policy. Often the switch happens gradually, following prolonged discussions, a change in leadership, or some other institutional shift. Like most issues in admissions, the decision is often more complicated than it might seem.