Less is more when it comes to the use of standardized tests in college admissions as far as Lawrence University officials are concerned.
For students enrolling for the start of the 2006-07 academic year Lawrence will no longer require students to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission consideration college officials announced Thursday.
With its decision Lawrence becomes the only liberal arts college in Wisconsin and the first member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest — a consortium of 14 academically excellent, independent liberal arts colleges located in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado — to adopt a test-optional approach.
“We’ve basically decided to say ‘enough already,'” said Steve Syverson, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence. “The recent introduction of the additional writing segments for both the SAT and ACT has further raised the level of confusion, angst and expense already associated with the admission process.”
The new version of the SAT, which will be administered for the first March 12, will feature three sections instead of two: a more difficult math section, critical reading replacing the verbal section and a new hand-written essay component. A perfect score on the test jumps from 1600 to 2400. The new ACT, with its optional writing exam, was administered for the first time Feb. 12.
While students will still have the option of submitting standardized tests scores, Syverson said Lawrence will continue to use its time-tested standard of “multiple intelligences” when reviewing a student’s application for admission.
“Lawrence has traditionally enrolled students that rank among the nation’s highest in standardized test scores, but we have found the quality of a student’s high school curriculum and the performance within that curriculum is really the best predictor of academic success here.
“We’re seeking intelligent, engaged, motivated students who have personal strengths in creativity and leadership or outstanding talent in areas like music, art, athletics, theater or specific academic disciplines. Those strengths and talents are not assessed well by standardized tests, but are usually discernible through a careful review of each applicant’s high school record, extracurricular involvement, writing sample and recommendations.”
A 20-year study conducted by Bates College and released last fall adds credence to the argument that standardized test scores are not necessary to be able to predict academic success in college. In its study on the effects of its own test-optional admission policy, in place since 1984, Bates found that there were no significant differences in academic performance or graduation rates between those who had submitted SAT scores and those that elected not to submit test results.
“A test score provides an additional piece of information about a student’s potential, but in our opinion, that added tidbit is not commensurate with the financial and emotional costs to students,” said Syverson, who has been directing admissions operations at Lawrence since 1983.
While it is hard to quantify the emotional toll standardized tests exact on 17- and 18-year-olds, it is much easier to quantify the monetary cost. Test preparation services and SAT/ACT tutors are becoming increasingly big business.
According to a February 2, 2005 Business Week article, the most intensive test-preparation programs can cost as much as $1,000, while personal tutors can charge $100 to $400 an hour. The addition of the new writing component, the magazine reported, has produced a major spike in new business for both the established test-preparation companies such as Kaplan and The Princeton Review as well as new players in the market.
In the Business Week article, Adam Newman, vice president for research and client services at Eduventures, a Boston-based company that tracks the education business, described the new writing components as a “pure marketing and expansion opportunity” for test-prep companies.
The growth of the test-preparation industry has helped fuel widespread criticism of standardized testing on the grounds that the tests put low-income minority and rural students at a disadvantage. Studies have shown that higher standardized test scores correlate strongly with higher family income, raising questions about their legitimacy in identifying academic potential.
“The increased emphasis on the tests further disenfranchises students from less-privileged backgrounds, which then interferes with higher education’s traditional mission to enhance socioeconomic mobility in America,” said Syverson.
In implementing a test-optional admission policy, Lawrence joins a number of other highly selective colleges across the nation that have made similar decisions. Among its peer nationally-ranked liberal arts colleges, Bates, Bowdoin, Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Hampshire, Lewis & Clark, and Pitzer have all adopted test-optional admission policies.
“We strongly believe that our comprehensive review process allows us to identify the kind of great kids we want at Lawrence, regardless of whether or not they submit standardized test scores,” said Syverson.
“Students who feel their high school record is strong enough to merit admission without standardized test scores need not submit those scores. Ultimately, their choice of courses and record of achievement over four years of high school provides a much better indication of their ability to survive the academic rigors of Lawrence than do the results of a three-hour test taken on some Saturday morning.”