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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Test-optional students are as likely to graduate

At colleges that don’t require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, students admitted on grades alone are just as likely to graduate as those who submit test scores, according to a new study, Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works.

Credit: LA Johnson/NPR

In addition, researchers found that test-optional colleges “enroll — and graduate — a higher proportion of low-income and first generation-students, and more students from diverse backgrounds,” reports NPR’s Claudio Sanchez.

However, diversity improved at the same rate at schools that require test scores as at those who do not, said Jack Buckley, a former College Board official who’s now senior vice president at the American Institutes for Research.

Test-optional policies are hotly debated, report Scott Jaschik, who writes about the study and its critics on Inside Higher Ed.

Among the study’s findings:

  1. About one-fourth of all applicants to the test-optional colleges opted not to submit scores.

  2. Underrepresented minority students were more likely than others to decide not to submit. Among black students, 35 percent opted not to submit. But the figure was only 18 percent for white students. (Women were more likely than men to decide not to submit scores.)

  3. First-year grades were slightly lower for nonsubmitters, but they ended up highly successful, graduating at equivalent rates or — at some institutions — slightly higher rates than did those who submitted test scores. This, the report says, is “the ultimate proof of success.”

“Even as more colleges drop the testing requirements, the College Board has insisted evidence backs its view that the best way to predict college success is to review both grades and test scores,” writes Jaschik. A new book, Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Future of College Admissions, edited by three scholars with ties to College Board, “described research that generally questioned test-optional policies.”

In addition to questioning test-optional policies’ impact on diversity, he writes, “the book highlighted research on high school grade inflation, which some see as an argument for standardized testing. (Of course, others don’t.)”

High school grades are rising, while SAT scores are not. Forty-seven percent of students in the class of ’16 had an A average, compared to 38.9 percent in 1998, according to a study by a College Board researcher.

Grade inflation is much higher in private schools than in public schools. Apparently, tuition-paying parents demand A’s.

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