News Local/State

Colleges And Universities Adopting Test Optional Policies


Spencer Tritt/WNIJ

High school students through the decades have sweated over the college admissions tests, the ACT and the SAT.  Now, more and more schools are not requiring applicants to take the standardized tests.

More than 1,000 four-year institutions across the nation no longer require all or some applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores.

Three schools in western Illinois have adopted test optional policies: Knox College, Monmouth College, and Western Illinois University. Knox College implemented the policy in 2005, while Monmouth College and WIU announced their policies this fall.

Knox College

President Teresa Amott said Knox adopted the policy to create a level playing field. She said students from well-off families can give their students opportunities for test preparation while those from lower-income families don’t have that option.

She also said the test optional policy was not a stretch for Knox because private liberal arts college because the college has always taken deeper look at prospective students.

Knox College President Teresa Amott. “We don’t miss the test scores. And we’re happy that other schools are joining that movement and happy that people are getting on that bandwagon because we think it’s the right thing to do.”

Photo Credit: Rich Egger/Tri States Public Radio

“We look for students who take the most challenging courses available to them, given the resources of their school district. We look at their grades. We certainly look at their extracurriculars. We look at essays. We look at what they tell us is important to them,” Amott said.

She said it’s a difficult task because Knox receives thousands of applications. But she acknowledged such reviews would be even more difficult for larger public institutions that receive tens of thousands of applications.

In support of the test optional policy, Amott cited a study done by Bates College, which is a liberal arts college in Maine and an early adopter of the test optional policy.

“Their experience is that there is no significant difference between those with high scores and those with low scores in terms of completion or academic distinction at the institution,” said Amott.

“What it’s really a good predictor of is your ability to take standardized tests.”

She said students who apply to Knox College are still allowed to submit ACT or SAT scores, which will be considered as part of the college’s overall review. “That’s why we call it test optional.”

Amott, who became Knox’s president in 2011, said it is difficult to tell whether the policy has affected student enrollment.  She said regardless of that, it was the right thing for Knox to do.

“We think we’re getting exactly the kind of students we want by signaling to them that that test is not the most important thing about them.”

Monmouth College  

President Clarence Wyatt said studies have shown that success in a rigorous high school program is a much better indicator of potential success at Monmouth College than a standardized test score.

Monmouth College President Clarence Wyatt said the school’s new test optional policy could help boost enrollment “…because it has removed an obstacle from many of the young people who otherwise might not have chosen to apply to the college.”

Photo Credit: Rich Egger/Tri States Public Radio

He also said implementation of a test optional policy is a matter of equity.

“Study after study, including studies done by ACT and SAT themselves, have indicated that people from less advantaged backgrounds - as a rule - do not do as well on standardized tests as those young people from more socio-economically advantaged backgrounds,” said Wyatt.

Wyatt said test scores were already the lowest priority on the list of three basic qualities Monmouth considered in applicants:

  1. The strength of a student’s high school record
  2. Their indications of leadership and other sorts of activities “What did they do in high school? What leadership activities were they engaged in? Did they hold down a job? Were they volunteering?”
  3. Test scores

Although test scores are no longer required, Wyatt said applicants still have the option of submitting them.

“If a student believes that a test score can help provide more information, helps to provide him or herself more effectively, we’ll accept that test score. We’ll put it in the mix. If a student chooses not to, that’s fine.”

Western Illinois University      

WIU will become the second public university in Illinois to adopt a test optional policy. The other school is Northeastern.

Western’s policy will be a bit different from those at Knox and Monmouth Colleges. It will apply only to those with a grade point average of 3.3 or higher.

Doug Freed, Director of Admissions at WIU. ”We just really feel that the grade point average -- something that somebody’s achieved over four years -- is a better predictor of their success than what they’ve done on one day for four or five hours.”

Photo Credit: Rich Egger/Tri States Public Radio

Director of Admissions Doug Freed said a sliding scale will be used for evaluating prospective students with a lower G.P.A.

“So the higher your grade point average is, the more medium your test score could be. But if you’re toward the lower end of our G.P.A. scale, then we’ll be looking for higher test scores,” Freed said.

Freed said Western won’t throw out test scores entirely.  A higher score could help a student receive more scholarship money, and Western will still use the test scores for placing students in Mathematics and English.

Freed said Western decided to adopt the test optional policy after reviewing national research.

“The data shows that high school grade point average is the best predictor of success,” he said.

“Some students don’t test well. And there is a lot of concern about some of the possible) bias that’s in the test towards certain groups of students.”

Freed said the new policy might help boost student enrollment, but he called that a secondary consideration. “We want to be fair with students and make sure we’re getting all the students that we could get that can achieve well and have achieved well in high school.”

WIU Board of Trustees member Patrick Twomey, who is superintendent of the Macomb School District, supports the new policy.

“When you look at a student’s achievement over time, that’s far more meaningful than how a student achieved on one single day at one single moment,” Twomey said.

Rich Egger is the News Director at Tri States Public Radio in Macomb. Follow him on Twitter @regger_tspr.