One College Refuses to Accept College Entrance Exams

Hampshire College - Amherst, MAPhoto credit: Kevin Rutherford (CC-By-SA 3.0)
Hampshire College – Amherst, MA
Photo credit: Kevin Rutherford (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Hampshire College in Amherst, MA decided last year to not accept ACT or SAT scores from students seeking admissions. As a result U.S. News and World Report has dropped the school from their rankings.

Valarie Strauss published a guest piece from the school’s president, Jonathan Lash, that explains why they made that decision.

We completely dropped standardized tests from our application as part of our new mission-driven admissions strategy, distinct from the “test-optional” policy that hundreds of colleges now follow. If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores. Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation.

We weighed other factors in our decision:

• Standardized test scores do not predict a student’s success at our college.

• SATs/ACTs are strongly biased against low-income students and students of color, at a time when diversity is critical to our mission.

• We surveyed our students and learned not one of them had considered rankings when choosing to apply to colleges; instead they most cared about a college’s mission.

• Some good students are bad test takers, particularly under stress, such as when a test may grant or deny college entry. Multiple-choice tests don’t reveal much about a student.

• We’ve developed much better, fairer ways to assess students who will thrive at our college.

This is a different approach from test-optional schools that some have accused these schools as using this as a way to become more exclusive under the guise of being more diverse.  The Hechinger Report published this accusation last August:

After all, research has shown that standardized tests such as the SAT often put low-income and minority students at a disadvantage. Low-income students, unlike their more affluent peers, don’t have the money to spend on expensive test-prep classes that teach tricks students can use to increase their scores. Therefore, it would appear that low-income and minority students would have a better chance of being admitted at test-optional schools.

In practice, however, colleges have used these policies to become even more exclusive than they previously were. Here’s how schools do it: by freeing prospective students from having to provide SAT and ACT scores, they tend to attract more applicants, many of whom may have scored poorly on the tests. (The University of Georgia study found that these schools “receive approximately 220 more applications, on average, after adopting a test-optional policy.”) For the colleges, more applicants mean more students they can reject, which lowers their acceptance rate and raises the institution’s perceived selectivity.

In addition, by going test-optional, schools can artificially inflate the average SAT and ACT scores that they report to magazines that rank colleges, such as U.S. News & World Report.

They may be the case for some, but it doesn’t appear one can accuse Hampshire College of this since they are not taking them all together and they’re being dropped from the rankings.

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