Some Long Island higher education institutions won't require SAT or ACT standardized test scores for fall 2023 admissions, a policy first put in place by schools when the COVID-19 pandemic made group testing unsafe — and most say they might permanently abandon requiring the results.
The New York Institute of Technology has decided to make its temporary suspension of mandatory testing permanent for most of its undergraduate programs. Molloy and Adelphi universities, as well as the SUNY system, are considering it as well.
Some Island schools have found reasons to believe that mandatory testing is not necessary. There are other indicators of future academic success, they said, such as high school grade-point average and strength of curriculum.
“High school GPA is the leading predictor of college success. This measure has been stronger than test scores in predicting the likelihood of success,” said Kristen Capezza, Adelphi’s vice president of enrollment management.
WHAT TO KNOW
- When the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020, a majority of colleges and universities in the United States suspended the requirement that applicants submit standardized test scores because gathering to take the test was deemed unsafe.
- A majority of institutions have kept the suspension in place through the 2023-24 academic year.
- Some schools have decided to make tests optional permanently, and others are evaluating the policy to see if high school grades and other factors predict future college success as well as standardized test scores.
Some believe requiring test results discriminates against disadvantaged students whose schools may not offer advanced courses. Private test prep tutoring can cost hundreds of dollars an hour, while commercial test preparation courses can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Khan Academy offers a free online test practice program.
Hofstra University did away with mandatory test results years before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hofstra official Jessica Eads said the “belief that the SAT is biased against disadvantaged groups and really inadequately predicts academic success at the college level” led the school to consider making tests optional in 2015.
The school made it official once a review of its own data revealed that high school GPA and the rigor of students’ high school curriculum better predicted their future Hofstra GPA than their test scores did.
“That was an obvious choice for us,” said Eads, vice president for student enrollment, engagement and success, adding that the university had worked hard to reduce the anxiety involved for students in the college application process.
“They are more than one number," she said.
The standardized test, a fixture of the college admissions process since 1948 — and earlier for scholarship applicants — is on increasingly shaky ground.
According to FairTest, a group advocating against testing, about 80% of the nation’s higher educational institutions suspended them through 2023, with two-thirds committed to suspensions at least through 2024.
An increasing number of institutions have made tests optional already — some decades ago. They range from large public systems like the University of California to small, selective liberal arts colleges such as Bates College in Maine.
Bates College presented data in a 2004 report based on its own experience, since 1984, that showed little difference in college success rates between those admitted with or without submitting test scores.
Opening the door for others
At NYIT, all undergraduate programs with the exception of the nursing and other health profession programs no longer require SAT or ACT tests in their admissions process. And that, the university believes, has led to more applications from students of color, students who are the first in their family to go to college, and those with financial need.
Karen Vahey, dean of admissions and financial aid, said students of color “represented a larger portion of the applicant and admitted pool since moving to test-optional” in fall 2021, including “as much as an 8% rise in applications from students of color compared to prior years” and a rise of as much as 13% in admitted students.
In addition, first-generation applicants rose by 12% “year over year,” and fall 2021 saw NYIT enroll its largest freshman class in 12 years, with a 10% hike in applicants the following year, Vahey said.
“We believe our test-optional policy contributed to these increases,” she said.
Adelphi officials said they also saw such increases in diversity. From fall 2019 to fall 2022, enrolled first-year students “identifying as nonwhite has grown from 47 percent to 51 percent of the entering class,” Capezza said. “More specifically during that same time span, diverse applicants grew 25.5 percent, and offers of admission grew 25.6 percent.”
Hofstra also saw increases, Eads said, but attributes those to recruitment efforts and a more diverse demographic in the high school-aged population.
Not all institutions believe the SAT or ACT is unfair, however. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s top universities, reinstated mandatory testing last March, determining that the scores, especially in mathematics, ensured applicants were prepared for the math-heavy curriculum and actually gave socially disadvantaged students a better chance for admittance.
MIT argued tests could identify well-prepared students who didn’t have the opportunity for advanced coursework or application-enhancing activities, dean of admissions and student financial services Stuart Schmill said in a March interview with MIT News, a university publication.
Students could study for the SAT or ACT online for free despite inadequacies in their high schools’ offerings, he said.
Eads, however, said, “Certainly some schools are advocating for it but not in our peer set or locally that I’ve heard.”
'One piece of the puzzle'
Marguerite Lane, Molloy’s associate vice president for enrollment management, said the test-optional policy went into effect in the fall of 2020 after most of the incoming class already had been accepted based on applications with required test scores.
“When we went test-optional, we continued to rely on the other key indicators we have always used to predict student success,” she said, including academic high school average; the rigor of their high school curriculum; Regents grades when available; participation in student leadership, and community service while in high school.
“The test scores were one piece of the puzzle — in the absence of those test scores we are using those other pieces of the puzzle," Lane said. "I will tell you being test optional, we are very well satisfied that the academic quality of our incoming first-year students has remained strong."
She said the university hopes to make a decision on mandatory testing before the fall of 2024 and will continue to evaluate data on student performance.
“I have been looking at the test scores for the students who were admitted and received academic scholarships based on high school GPAs without submitting test scores, and it correlates closely to what they would have received if they did submit test scores,” she said, noting that some students were accepted based on high school GPAs before their test scores came in.
“Their test score corresponds well to what would have been expected and required when test scores were mandatory.”
Mandatory tests also have been suspended at St. Joseph's University in Patchogue, and at LIU Post, where high scores, if submitted, could increase scholarship awards, according to the office of admissions.
St. Joseph’s was “strongly considering” extending the test-optional policy to fall 2024 as it monitors the success of the 2021 and 2022 classes admitted under the policy, said Christine Murphy, vice president for enrollment management.
The test-optional policy “has resulted in a higher completion rate of applications submitted,” Murphy said, allowing more timely offers of admission and scholarships to prospective students rather than waiting for test score results.
The university also will evaluate the effectiveness of the College Board’s new digital SAT, available internationally in 2023 and nationally in 2024, she said.
SUNY schools, including Stony Brook University, SUNY Old Westbury and Farmingdale State College, await a decision by the SUNY system’s central administration on whether to extend optional testing beyond 2023-24.
Interim Chancellor Deborah Stanley said in a January memo that further action "will be informed by research from the Rockefeller Institute of Government," a nonpartisan public-policy think tank.
A full assessment of optional testing's impact on student success would require multiple years of data, said the Rockefeller Institute's executive director of research, Laura Schultz.
"Whenever you are looking at testing data from the COVID-related population, you have to determine whether those impacts are from the COVID pandemic itself or from the testing policy," she said.
Farmingdale spokesman Matthew Colson said the school is “encouraging juniors to take the exams if able, just to be prepared and to give themselves their own option of submitting their score, should it not be required, and if they feel it’s a true and accurate demonstration of their academic ability that could benefit their admission consideration.”