Standardized tests phasing out of college applications

(Photo credit: Alya Nowilaty/Fourth Estate)

One of the most prominent schools in the country, George Washington University, recently dropped its requirement of submitting test scores for freshman admission, following in the footsteps of Mason.

Mason dropped its requirement of submitting test scores for freshman admission back in 2006, making it one of the first schools to do so, Amy Takayama-Perez, Mason’s Dean of Admissions, said via email.

“We wanted to create a way to evaluate students beyond just test scores. We wanted to give those students who perform really well in the classroom, but may not be the best test takers, a chance to apply without providing scores,” Takayama-Perez said.

Mason’s Office of Admissions website says there are two options by which students may be considered for admission. One option is the traditional method, which includes submission of standardized (SAT or ACT) test scores. Score optional consideration is the second option, intended specifically for students who believe that their test scores do not adequately reflect their level of academic achievement and/or predict their potential.

According to the website, if a student chooses to eliminate their test scores, their best chance of being accepted is meeting the following criteria: a minimum cumulative high school GPA of 3.50 on a 4.00 scale; evidence of strong performance in a challenging academic curriculum as demonstrated by a robust college preparatory selection of courses; an actual or estimated class rank in the top 20 percent of their high school class; and/or strong leadership and motivation, as demonstrated in their extracurricular, work or service experiences.

Takayama-Perez said that test scores were not always a debatable metric for judging students’ academic abilities, and that the way many families now approach these tests is a new development.

“[Test scores] were created to find a uniform way to see if students were prepared for college, [but there were] many fewer colleges and universities at the time and obviously student demographics have changed significantly. Now you have students and families paying thousands of dollars to learn how to take the test and creating stress over scores and how many times to take the ACT or SAT,” Takayama-Perez said.

Takayama-Perez said the reason Mason decided to eliminate test scores is because it is an institution that has a commitment to accessibility. She said Mason and the Office of Admissions find it important to create a variety of ways for students to be evaluated and demonstrate that they are ready to compete at the college level. For some students, how they perform on one standardized test isn’t necessarily the best way to accomplish this.

Junior Caitlin Plymyer was one such student who decided not to submit her test scores when applying to Mason.

“I feel the SAT/ACT[‘s] representation of students’ academics varies,” Plymyer said. “For people who do not struggle taking tests, it’s a great way to measure their knowledge on material. For people who have some sort of limiting factor, such as severe testing anxiety, it can be a crippling measurement of knowledge.”

Freshman Bianca Rossell is another student who didn’t submit her test scores because she felt they were not very exceptional.

“I felt the subjects I was tested on, particularly the math and science sections, were irrelevant to what I wanted to study. So I figured, why send these scores if they don’t have much to do with my intended career path and don’t benefit my standing among other students?” Rossell said.

A Washington Post article recently said that more than 125 private colleges and universities featured in U.S. News and World Report rankings now have test-optional admission policies, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest. 

“I think you will see all types of schools continuing to have discussions about the role of test scores in the admissions process,” Takayama-Perez said.

Rossell feels that scores don’t always represent a student’s abilities.

“SAT/ACT scores can totally be a good representation of a student’s academics, if that student studied hard for those tests. I personally didn’t study which is probably why my scores weren’t exceptional, but I know I’m not dumb,” Rossell said. “It’s not fair to judge a student’s abilities solely by their test scores when there are other methods for those abilities to be shown.”

Plymyer strongly believes all schools should allow students to withdraw from submitting test scores given a valid reason, as Mason does.

Janette Muir, the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, said Mason’s Office of Admissions carefully considers every student in a holistic way.

“It’s not simply about test scores or GPA,” Muir said. “I’m proud of Mason’s role in taking the lead on this policy and helping to shape national conversations about the value of these various measures going forward.”