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Schools make entrance exams optional for admissions

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A Web-only photo courtesy of Lebanon Valley College

United Methodist-related Lebanon Valley College no longer requires prospective students to take the SAT or ACT examinations for admission.
May 9, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

United Methodist-related Lebanon Valley College has joined a growing list of colleges and universities that no longer require prospective students to take the SAT or ACT examinations for admission.

The liberal arts college in Annville, Pa., decided to drop the standardized test requirement after studies showed high school records were more of an indicator of a student’s academic success than either of those tests. The new policy will go into effect for students applying to Lebanon Valley College for the fall 2007 semester.

“Classroom achievement as reflected in GPA (grade point average) and class rank, not standardized tests, provide the best predictor of academic success,” said William J. Brown Jr., Lebanon Valley’s dean of admission and financial aid. “Our nationally recognized scholarship program reflects this, and so, too, does our admission process.”

In a media release, the college said the SAT played a part in its admission process for more than 40 years, but the scores recently have not been an important factor.

According to an April 5 article in USA Today, 24 of the top 100 liberal arts colleges as ranked by U.S. News & World Report are SAT-and ACT-optional. In total, 730 U.S. colleges don’t require SAT or ACT scores, but many are technical or religious schools or those with open admissions policies, the story said.

“We expect the ACT/SAT-optional list to continue growing as more institutions recognize that the tests remain biased, coachable, educationally damaging and irrelevant to sound admissions practices,” said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a Cambridge. Mass., agency that monitors standardized tests.

“As leaders of the new test-optional campuses have eloquently stated, dropping ACT and SAT score requirements will enhance diversity and academic quality,” he said in an announcement last November about the increase in schools dropping test score requirements.

Two other United Methodist-related schools — Dickinson College and Drew University — do not use the SAT as part of their admission process. The policy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., took effect in December 1994 but the first full year it was engaged was for fall 1996 applicants.

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Robert Weisbuch
Drew University in Madison, N.J., enacted the SAT as optional in its admission for students last September. According to Robert Weisbuch, university president, the decision to no longer use standardized test scores as a requirement for undergraduate admission was made “because we believe this action will help Drew increase its selectivity, improve its diversity, and enhance overall student quality.”

“We feel this action will encourage students to focus more on what a liberal arts education has to offer them and less on test scores,” he said in a university news release.

FairTest tracks colleges and universities that de-emphasize use of the SAT or ACT for admission into undergraduate programs. As of March, other United Methodist-related schools on their list included Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, Tenn.; Oklahoma City University; Paine College, Augusta, Ga.; Wiley College, Marshall, Texas; Philander Smith College, Little Rock, Ark.; Rocky Mountain College, Billings, Mont.; and Nebraska Wesleyan College, Lincoln, Neb.

Brown expects the result of Lebanon Valley’s dropping the SAT and ACT to be an “increase slightly” from populations that traditionally have not done as well on standardized tests — minority students and students from economically challenged backgrounds.

Tests add value

Numerous admissions and media relations officials at United Methodist-related colleges and universities responding to an e-mail from United Methodist News Service indicate that they are not SAT-optional because using the SAT and the ACT adds value to the admissions decision. They also note that one reason some schools make the tests optional as a factor in admissions is to increase rankings in U.S. News and World Report. There are 123 schools, colleges and universities affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

“We still believe that these two exams add value to the admissions decision,” said Daniel McKinney, director of admissions at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan.

Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Va., requires an SAT or ACT score but is looking into the possibility of making the test scores optional in the near future, said Patricia N. LeDonne, director of admissions.

More than 2 million students take the test for college admission. It is not known if recently publicized SAT scoring errors as well as its new essay portion — increasing the exam to almost four hours — will make more colleges opt out of using the exams.

At a May 2 meeting, SAT officials could not provide the New York State Senate Higher Education committee with definitive reasons for the scoring problems. The scoring errors led a New York high school student to file a lawsuit April 7 in Minnesota against the nonprofit College Board, which oversees the SAT, and for-profit Pearson Educational Measurement, which has offices in Minnesota’s Hennepin County.

Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, is also reviewing admission requirements relating to the SAT or ACT. In the meantime, “the value of this requirement is that is provides a standardized measure by which students from different high schools and backgrounds can be compared,” said Dee Ann Rexroat, director of communications. Greater weight in assessing the academic preparedness of students is given to academic performance in college preparatory classes, she said.

Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., has debated making the tests optional for admission but they continue to be a requirement. Prospective students and their parents in the country’s southern region frequently ask about the average test scores of students enrolled at Hendrix, said Karen R. Foust, vice president for enrollment. “Such averages seem to be one way that families measure the academic profile of your school.”

In both Kentucky and Michigan, the ACT is the standard test. Both tests are accepted at Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, Ky., but are not mandatory. However, students are strongly encouraged to take one because the test is an “excellent” indicator of a student’s ability when they enter college, said Duane Bonifer, director of public relations.

A national index

When colleges don’t require test scores what typically happens is that those students with high test scores submit them anyway, and those with lower scores do not; the result is a higher reported median, said Robin Brown, the vice president of enrollment at United Methodist-related Willamette University in Salem, Ore. “In most cases, dropping the test score requirement increases the number of applications, which in turn allows colleges to deny more students, thus having them appear more selective.”

Willamette requires applicants to submit the exam scores because “it is the only national index by which to compare students from different high schools and states,” Brown said. High school grade point averages are often inflated, high schools differ widely in their course offerings, and fewer high schools now report class rank, she said. “It is difficult to assess students when such indicators have a wide variance. The only common measurement is the SAT or ACT test score.”

American University in Syracuse, N.Y., continues to require standardized testing in its admissions evaluation process. A student’s high school GPA in combination with standardized test scores has helped the university predict those students who are most likely to succeed at American University, according to Maralee Csellar, associate director of media relations.

“It is important to keep in mind, however, that we are holistic in our review of our applicants,” she said. The university also uses letters of recommendation, the application essay, extracurricular activities and other items in assessing a student’s fit with American University.

The University of Evansville, Ind., finds standardized test scores helpful because it receives applications from not only a wide variety of students throughout Indiana but from across the country.

“We know that some schools may present a more challenging academic curriculum than other schools,” said Gary Rigley, associate director of admissions. “How do we know if a ?B’ at a certain school is the same as a ?B’ at another school?” he asked. “Standardized tests assist us in determining the student’s academic preparation. They give us one more thing to look at when determining the academic level of the student.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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