Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Wake Forest University Does Away With SAT Requirement

June 5th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

A shout out to the Schools Matter blog for it’s June 4, 2008 post on Wake Forest University’s recent decision to abandon its SAT Requirement.

In a post titled, “Only Bad Reasons Remaining to Require the SAT” Jim Horn, the Schools Matter blogger, sums up the problematic nature of the College Board’s “aptitude” test and its deleterious effect on educational equity:

Clearly, the SAT has outlived its reason for being in the first place, which was institutionalized ostensibly to create the basis for an objective measure from which to establish an intellectual meritocracy and to predict the success rates of incoming freshmen. With scores simply mirroring disparities in family income, and with women, who score lower than men, finishing college at a higher rate than their counterparts, the SAT has failed on both counts.

What the SAT continues to do well is to make sure that social reproduction is achieved, that privilege is rewarded with enrollment in most of the best colleges, and that those who are struggling to overcome economic and social barriers are cut off at the knees. Well, Wake Forest is no longer one of those. Here’s to Wake!!

Horn also reprints the letter from Wake Forest’s Provost and Director of Admissions, announcing the change in admission requirements to the University staff and faculty. Here are some highlights:

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.

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.

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.

“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.

Having recently spent time at my own undergraduate alma mater, I am inclined to wonder whether or not the institutions of the Ivy League will be dropping the SAT requirement at any point in the near future. As a former admission officer at one of these institutions, I must say that I have mixed feelings about the move to leave any morsel of information about the applicant behind.

By the same token, however, I believe that college admissions committees can learn to read the SAT more effectively, emphasizing it for students at the highest levels of scoring (students with 750 or above on the verbal and math portions), and de-emphasizing it for students whose scores fall into that vast middle range. After all, my experience of evaluating student applications (at my old alma mater and at my current place of work) is that it is in the great high middle (students with scores from about 550 to 700) that the SAT provides the least information; and it is only at the extremes (scores below 400 and above 750) that the results are most reliable.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in Achivement Gap, Black Students, College Admissions, SAT, Standardized Testing, Wake Forest University

2 Responses

  1. Shelia

    This does indeed provide food for thought. While I agree with Wake Forest in their reasoning for doing so, I agree with you in that there is some information to be gleaned from these tests.

    The SAT scores are not totally useless. I think that perhaps it could be used more as a tool in decision making as opposed to one of the primary factors.

  2. v

    Now, if they get rid of GREs I would be very, very happy