Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,
We are pleased to join President Hatch in announcing that Wake Forest University will no longer require prospective undergraduate students to submit scores on the SAT or any other standardized test. As we indicated to the College and Calloway faculty in a confidential letter last week, this decision has the full support of the Board of Trustees, the Cabinet, Deans, and staff in the Office of Admission. Many faculty members, including members of the College Committee on Admissions, the College Committee on Academic Affairs, and the Executive Committee of the University Senate also agree that this change will add significantly to our distinction.
We want to take this opportunity to offer some of our thinking about the change. As we were considering it and listening to various discussions, especially among our faculty, several points influenced us. Some have implications far beyond Wake Forest, and reach across all of higher education in the US. Others are specifically about who we are at Wake Forest.
Across universities and colleges in the U.S., there is more and more evidence that the SAT is less sound as an indicator of college success than we once thought. We are referring to studies showing that high test scores — especially on the SAT — do not predict college success. These studies, coupled with a possible testing bias against women and groups who are marked by ethnic or socioeconomic diversity, and recent SAT scoring errors, suggest that it is time to reconsider the use of standardized tests in the admission process.
Our own Joseph Soares, Associate Professor of Sociology, is an important contributor to this national conversation on college admissions. In his recent book, “The Power of Privilege: Yale and America’s Elite Colleges,” Joseph argues that current admissions policies are not resulting in equality of opportunity at our nation’s best colleges. As he points out, approximately 80% of students at America’s top colleges are from families of the highest socioeconomic status. He presents compelling evidence that reliance on the SAT and other standardized tests for admission is a major barrier to access for many worthy students.
Admission directors are listening to this important national conversation and have begun to respond to these problems. In 2007, the National Association for College Admission Counseling formed a commission to look at the issues closely (the Commission on the Use of Standardized Testing in Undergraduate Admission). William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, is leading their effort to learn more about the effect of test preparation on scores, test biases, and the link between standardized tests and high school curricula.
Many liberal arts institutions, however, have studied these issues already and decided to make the SAT optional. Now at least 30 of the 2008 Top 100 U.S. News & World Report “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” have SAT-optional policies in place. The list includes Bates, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Middlebury, Smith, and Mount Holyoke — all ranked within the top thirty. Why have these distinguished colleges dropped the SAT requirement?
Studies show that there is little or no difference in the college GPAs of those who submit SAT scores and those who do not. In 1984, for example, Bates College made the SAT optional, and now about a third of each class enters without submitting an SAT score. In a 20-year study of their policy and its results, Bates found that the difference in the performance of the SAT submitters and non-submitters is not significant (GPA average of 3.06 for non-submitters and 3.11 for submitters). The difference in Bates’ graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters is one-tenth of one percent (0.1%).
In addition, Bates linked their SAT-optional policy to almost doubling their total application pool and, more importantly, found that applications increased from all the subgroups that commonly worry about standardized testing: women, U.S. students of color, international students, low-income students, and rural students.
Bates also reported that non-submitters are slightly more likely to choose creative majors like art and theater. Although their admission numbers for students of color and international students have increased, white students opting not to submit SAT scores outnumber students of color 5-to-1 at Bates.
New information about actual admission practice also influenced this decision. Just this month The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 2, 2008) reported on two recent studies showing that elite colleges are under market pressure to give more weight to standardized admissions tests, because higher scores can boost their position in various ranking systems.
In addition, the percentage of universities who report that they give considerable importance to standardized test scores has risen from 50 percent to about 60 percent over the past decade, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Despite policies in admission offices across the country that encourage the staff to review a student’s entire application, it seems that admission offices feel pressure to put undue weight on the SAT.
During our discussions here at Wake Forest, evidence that standardized testing is still biased against some groups of students, limiting access for minority and low-income students, for example, influenced the decision. According to The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a non-profit organization that critiques standardized testing, women consistently receive lower scores than their male counterparts despite the fact that women — as a group — earn higher grades in both high school and college.
Minority students, including African Americans, Latinos, and new Asian immigrants, also score significantly lower than white students. According to another recent report, over the past 19 years there has been a slight improvement in the combined SAT scores of both Blacks and Whites. But the gap between the scores of Black students and White students has actually increased.
So looking outward, there is compelling evidence to drop the SAT requirement. Then we looked in toward Wake Forest. Wake Forest is a university — but not a huge one, and this brings an advantage we can use. You may have noticed that the schools we cited above for making the SAT optional are liberal arts colleges, not universities. Colleges seem to have the capacity to drop the SAT requirement more readily because they bring in smaller classes. With fewer applicants, they can do a better job of getting to know the students in their pool.
Because we are small in university terms, we can achieve this advantage as well. Our admission staff know all about our future students — and about those who do not get in. We want to invest more in this deep knowledge and increase the weight on high school GPA and the strength of the chosen curriculum. Coupled with other indicators, high school success in a difficult curriculum proves to be a better mark of college success. In fact, our own analysis of Wake Forest data indicates that the SAT is a weak predictor of success, measured as the first-year GPA.
This is the evidence that led us to ask a serious question. “Does reliance on standardized testing limit access to our university by discouraging applications from students who would succeed, and even thrive, if they got in?”
Our response is that Wake Forest is completely committed to equity — and we do not like the idea that just by its very nature, one test might eliminate qualified students who would do well here. By making the SAT optional, we are more open to all the factors that qualify a student. And we are making the admission decisions ourselves.
We look forward to welcoming the best students from all backgrounds, including members of minority groups, international students, women, and men. With this change, we expect the entering class not only to be stronger, but to be more interesting as well.
So we welcome the opportunity to take this step. As with other changes, we will study it carefully as it unfolds. We hope this move prompts an open and lively debate about our academic values and aspirations. To help you engage in these discussions, related literature on standardized tests and college admissions is posted on WIN. Click on “InfoCentral” and then on “Forms and Documents Library.” Then click on “Information from the Provost.” Please be in touch with us to offer your questions and ideas.
Director of Admissions
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing. www.fairtest.org.
The Power of Privilege: Yale and America’s Elite Colleges, by Joseph Soares, Stanford University Press, 2007.
“Bates optional SAT VP Bill Hiss ’66 speaker notes.” Bates College. http://www.bates.edu/x61659.xml.
“Hamilton makes permanent its SAT-optional policy.” Hamilton College. http://www.hamilton.edu/news/more_news/display.cfm?id=10468.
“Researchers accuse selective colleges of giving admissions tests too much weight.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. May 2, 2008.
“College Board finds hundreds more SAT scoring mistakes.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 31, 2006.
“At admissions conference, talk of standardized tests, early decisions, and swag.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. October 12, 2007.
“SAT scores see largest dip in 31 years.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 8, 2006.
“The persisting racial scoring gap on the SAT college admission test.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. V 57, Autumn 2007.
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