Test-optional applicants on par academically with other students, officials say

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

In a presentation to the Faculty Senate, Provost Forrest Maltzman introduced new data showing that students admitted for fall 2016 who did not submit SAT or ACT scores had about the same first-year GPA as those who submitted scores.

Students who applied to GW without submitting standardized test scores are performing about equally as well as those who didn’t take advantage of the test-optional policy, according to new University data.

In a March presentation to the Faculty Senate, Provost Forrest Maltzman introduced new data showing that students admitted for fall 2016 who did not submit SAT or ACT scores – the first admissions cycle under the new policy – had about the same first-year GPA average as those who submitted scores. The data shows that, despite initial expert and faculty fears, students who applied test-optional are on par academically with other students.

Officials found that it’s not more difficult to predict how students will perform in their first year even without standardized test scores. Administrators said this finding reaffirmed the University’s decision to follow a national trend and shift to a test-optional admissions policy in 2015.

At the time, officials said the test-optional policy was an effort to increase accessibility to students from lower-income and minority backgrounds who are often at a disadvantage in taking the SAT or ACTs because they cannot afford to take the test multiple times or pay for outside tutoring.

After students are accepted to the University, officials use factors like high school GPA and course difficulty to predict how students will perform in their first year – grouping them based on how well they expect them to perform academically.

Maltzman said the main objective in predicting first-year performance of the students who applied test-optional in comparison to those who didn’t was to discover whether that information could still be accurately modeled without using standardized test scores as a factor for both groups.

“The question is what did you give, how much information about predictability did you give up when you went test-optional?” he said. “I think what that shows is that we actually gave up very minimal information about predictive performance.”

Maltzman said officials do not plan to change the current test-optional policy, which also led to a 28-percent spike in applications and a higher number of Latino, African-American and first-generation applicants in 2016. Several schools across the nation are headed in a test-optional direction to increase accessibility because often standardized test scores are more reflective of an applicant’s income than academic performance, he said.

“In the old days, when you put model predicting and look at curriculums and all these other things, maybe it was useful,” Maltzman said. “Nowadays it’s just not adding that much value.”

More than 1,000 colleges are now test-optional, according to a list maintained by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Currently, only one of GW’s 12 peer institutions, Wake Forest University, has a similar policy, but New York University and the University of Rochester are “test-flexible” – meaning students must submit a test, like AP scores or SAT subject tests, but not necessarily the SAT or ACT.

Students who used the policy also had a 91.1 percent freshman retention rate – about 1 percentage point higher than those who submitted test scores, according to the data.

Laurie Koehler, the vice provost for enrollment management and retention, said there wasn’t “a meaningful difference in how students who submitted test scores and students who didn’t performed.” She said the University uses all students’ first-year data to determine whether they need additional support from the school’s advisers.

“This isn’t giving us a lot information,” she said of test scores. “It’s creating a barrier.”

Admissions experts said standardized test scores are not a good indicator of future performance in college, and students who don’t submit test scores may not be good test-takers but could be better students overall.

James Dewey-Rosenfeld, the dean of undergraduate admissions at The Catholic University of America, said high school GPA and strength of course selection – not standardized test scores – were the two biggest factors for academic success at CUA, which implemented a test-optional policy in September 2015.

Dewey-Rosenfeld said the current sophomore class, which was the first to make use of the test-optional policy, had the highest average freshman GPA that CUA had seen in a “very long time.”

“What we saw is if we paid attention to really what the students were doing in the classroom in terms of grades and challenge in their curriculum, they were going to do well in the classroom here,” he said.

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