Wake Forest Drops SAT, ACT Requirement, Boosting Movement to Make Standardized Tests Optional

By Natasha Robinson, Associated Press

May 27, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. – Wake Forest University will no longer require applicants to take the SAT and ACT exams, boosting a movement to lessen the importance of standardized tests in college admissions.

The Winston-Salem school, which admitted just 38 percent of its 9,000 applicants for this fall, is the latest in a string of colleges that no longer require standardized tests. Officials there say the scores are not the best predictor of academic potential.

Most other colleges that have dropped standardized testing have not been highly selective and accept most, if not all, qualified applicants. The most prominent and selective schools have generally continued to use the tests as one of several admissions criteria.

The announcement Tuesday from Wake Forest — on the heels of a similar decision this month by Smith College in Massachusetts — adds two more selective colleges to the movement.

Wake Forest said it was the first of the top 30 schools in the annual U.S. News and World Report college rankings to drop the tests.

Director of Admissions Martha Allman said she has seen students at the top of their class who excelled but did poorly on the SAT and didn’t get in. The school, which did away with the testing requirement while examining how to diversify the student population, will instead place more emphasis on personal interviews, academics and extracurricular activities. Students can still have their test scores considered if they want.

“We in admissions have put up a barrier to these students to say all of your hard work and all of your academic achievement is being negated by one test, and we don’t feel like that is fair,” Allman said. “And it’s not fair, especially if the studies are showing it’s not a good predictor.”

Alana Klein, a spokeswoman for the College Board, which owns the SAT, said there is not a trend toward schools doing away with standardized tests. She said smaller schools are opting not to weigh SAT or ACT scores because they can take a more holistic approach to admissions, not because of concerns that, as some critics contend, minority and low-income students are at a disadvantage.

“The SAT is a fair test,” she said.

Standardized tests are often the only way colleges can directly measure students from different schools, and large universities — which may have tens of thousands of applications — rely on them.

But critics contend the exams are too stressful and keep some students from showing their real potential. Smith, a highly ranked liberal arts college for women with a strong reputation for enrolling low-income students, said its decision was prompted by a correlation between test performance and race and household income.

Despite the latest announcements, independent college admissions consultant Steven Roy Goodman said it is unlikely that most highly selective colleges will stop using standardized tests.

“As much as many people in the university world support the movement toward optional testing, it’s very difficult to assess the quality of courses in high schools around the country and around the world, and to reconcile the different grading systems, and to take into account the grade inflation that we’ve seen in many schools throughout the United States,” he said.

Larger universities, like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will continue to use standardized tests. Director of Admissions Rob Seltzer said they make a difference in predicting academic success and there’s been no discussion about making them optional.

“They are not the most important factor,” Seltzer said. “They have some weight in the admissions process, but the academic record, the transcript, is much more important.”

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