Proof Points: Test-optional admissions disappoint

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By Jill Barshay

There have been glowing profiles of low-income students of color applying and getting into prestigious colleges this year, seemingly the result of test-optional admissions. Inspiring anecdotes like these can sometimes lead us astray because we don’t know the full picture and whether the policy change is really making a dent in the student population overall. Before the pandemic, education researcher Christopher Bennett calculated what actually happened at 99 colleges and universities that stopped requiring students to submit SAT or ACT scores. His research and prior studies indicate that test-optional admissions may not be a way to vastly increase the number of underrepresented students enrolled in college.
 
The study, Untested Admissions: Examining Changes in Application Behaviors and Student Demographics Under Test-Optional Policies, was published in the peer-reviewed American Educational Research Journal in April 2021.
Read the column
Key Findings 
  • Test-optional admissions increased the share of Black, Latino and Native American students by only 1 percentage point at about 100 colleges and universities that adopted the policy between 2005-06 and 2015-16 compared to about 100 similar colleges that continued to require test scores
  • The share of low-income students, as measured by those who qualify for federal Pell Grants, also increased by only 1 percentage point on these campuses.
  • The policy had the effect of substantially increasing the share of women on campuses.
Lit Review 
  1. Bennett, C. T. (2021). Untested Admissions: Examining Changes in Application Behaviors and Student Demographics Under Test-Optional Policies. American Educational Research Journal.
  2. Belasco, A. S., Rosinger, K. O., Hearn, J. C. (2015). The test-optional movement at America's selective liberal arts colleges: A boon for equity or something else? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37(2), 206–223. 
  3. Kelly Ochs Rosinger , Karly Sarita Ford & Junghee Choi (2020): The Role of Selective College Admissions Criteria in Interrupting or Reproducing Racial and Economic Inequities, The Journal of Higher Education
  4. FairTest. (2019). 2019 the best year ever for test-optional admissions.
  5. FairTest. (2020). More than half of all U.S. four-year colleges and universities will be test-optional for fall 2021 admission.
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