Re-envisioning the SAT Admissions Requirement: A Beginner’s Guide

By Nancy Herrera '15Staff Writer

So, if Scripps College decides to get rid of the SAT requirement, what alternatives are left? When speaking to the admission staff, there is worry about the need for an objective method of finding out the quality of their applicants. Reasons why this is necessary are understandable: measures such as GPA become less useful in comparing students the more schools they come from. This is because a student could get a 4.0 for the same amount of work that earned another student at another school a 3.3. Every school and teacher have different ways of grading. In addition, there is the phenomenon of grade inflation, meaning GPAs have increased over time. This means that GPAs of most applicants to Scripps are now at least 3.8, higher than in the past. Therefore, the SAT and ACT seem like the least bad options, since they are identical tests given to every student. However, as with any “objective test” such as the IQ test, the test is never truly objective, and will always have its biases. This leaves the question: Is there a better way? Because of such high levels of competition among students, other measures have to be taken in order to find the best applicants, so Scripps engages in its fabulous holistic assessment process. This uses a combination of factors in order for the admissions office to decide whether someone is a great fit for the school or not. Here, we will examine alternative ways that the admissions office can measure students’ ability without requiring the SAT or ACT.

Eliminating the option to submit SAT/ACT Scores Let’s start with the most radical option and, at the Board of Trustees meeting, the first option that came up. Scripps could make it so that students cannot submit SAT/ACT scores to them. They do this by not having a College Board reporting number. By doing this, all students would be on an equal playing field. There is no risk for implicit bias, where students or admissions officers feel that students who submit scores are at an advantage to those who don’t. In addition, every applicant saves money. There are three downsides to this: Scripps might have a slightly lower ranking, because average SAT scores are used. Of course, for agency reporting purposes the College can still collect the scores, but the mean is divided by .9. It also ignores the fact that in our society, the SAT is still considered important, and is used to acquire scholarships and get into clubs. In addition, this could be a disappointment to students who feel proud of their testing score and cannot report it as part of their application. In light of this, it might be easier for Scripps to make a more gradual transition in terms of the SAT and ACT requirement.

Switching to SAT optional This is by far the most common option that colleges take. Part of it is because it sits better politically, and is an easier policy to pass. However, it does offer benefits. The College Board stays content with the college because it is not opting out of their services altogether. This is important, as historically the organization has gone to great lengths to keep customers, most famously in 2005 when the University of California system was about to opt out of the testing requirement. In addition, this allows students who feel proud of their scores to have the choice to continue reporting them to their desired colleges. Usually when colleges are SAT optional, they only offer this option to students who already have a high GPA and/or class rank. This means that students who do not fulfill the exemption requirements still have a chance of admission by submitting their presumably amazing SAT and/or ACT scores.

Alternatives to the SAT/ACT 1.    SAT Subject Tests/ Advanced Placement (AP) exams Since this isn’t my favorite option, let’s get this one out of the way. Many counselors have suggested using the SAT subject tests or AP exams as a way to substitute the SAT.  Research by Colby College shows that these exams are more indicative of knowledge and academic success than the SAT. Also, they tend to be aligned with school curricula, and in many cases are more rigorous than the SAT or ACT. (Currently Scripps College does not require SAT subject tests or AP exam scores.) However, there is a huge problem of access. If students cannot afford or do not have the option of fee waivers, then switching to these tests is still exclusionary for them. AP exams are even more expensive than the SAT, at $89 each. In addition, there are no fee waivers available, only fee reductions to $40 per exam (with additional district subsidies sometimes available). In addition, these exams are not administered as often, and some schools choose not to engage with the academic structure of AP courses. 2. Class Rank First off, class rankings are numbers; what could be more objective than that? In all seriousness, class rank is a tool that can be used as a way for Scripps to distill the best of the crop. Scripps already uses class rank in its favor, pulling most of its class from the top 10th percentile. It is effective in measuring capability because it puts applicants in their local context. Being the best student in your high school academically means a lot, no matter the school you came from- that is a fact. The admissions website brags that future Scripps students’ grades “rarely venture past the first letter of the alphabet”. Rank is a way of being able to quantify the value of those high GPAs, which can be supplemented by the rest of the admissions materials. However, not every school ranks their students. In addition, there are some excellent students who because of extenuating circumstances, could not achieve spectacular grades all the time. For this reason, the submission of class rank (usually shown in school transcripts), like standardized tests, should always remain optional. 3. Portfolios/ Graded essays, tests Schools who go SAT optional usually ask their students to submit writing samples and/or math exams. These give the admissions team a chance to see for themselves the ability applicants possess in the way standardized tests claim to do. Scripps College already requires a writing sample from every student, in order to both gauge ability and place students in Writing 50. Therefore, Scripps could choose to require a math exam to those who do not submit scores (Everyone if there is no option to submit scores). According to Inside Higher Ed, Lewis and Clark College has, since 1990, offered students the option to opt out of the SAT if they submit a portfolio of four of their best works from junior and senior year of high school. In this case (and most others), the stereotype that students who choose not to submit scores have low ones is not true. Instead, what the college sees is that students who do the portfolio option tend to be more motivated. It may not be a popular choice, but having that choice makes students satisfied, because they do not have to be represented with a test score. Scripps has always been proud of its incoming classes. Every summer, during the community meeting, the president shows a snapshot of the first-years and their amazing accomplishments. In an environment like this, there is plenty of room for creativity; where the SAT and ACT, can still have a place, but not a mandatory one. And students can choose to submit an alternative, realistically something along the path of the portfolio, an escape from the fatigue of our culture of over testing.