What Does the Research Say on Test Optional?
What Does the Research Say on Test Optional?Jose Rios, Director, Multicultural Communications
A panel of experts gathered at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) meeting in Phoenix last week to discuss the implications of test-optional policies and talk about systematic processes that institutions can put in place to increase college access and success for all students.
Jack Buckley, senior vice president for research at the College Board, discussed various claims being made about the purpose of assessments like the SAT. Backed by recent research findings, Buckley also talked about the unintended consequences of going test optional. Below are some highlights (edited for length and clarity):
First claim: High school grade point average (HSGPA) alone is a better predictor of college success.
Jack: This is simply not true. The College Board’s new pilot predictive validity study found that the SAT predicts first-year success in college as well as HSGPA does, and that looking at SAT scores in conjunction with HSGPA is the best predictor overall. That’s as true now with the new SAT as it was with the SAT given before March 2016.
Second claim: Test-optional admission policies increase access and diversity.
Jack: When we look at the very best research, there is little or no evidence that test-optional policies increase diversity. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. The two best studies that I can think of — which are independent studies, not the College Board’s — find exactly the opposite.
The Belasco et al. study looked over time at some of the best-known liberal arts schools that were early test-optional institutions. The study controlled for other changes that occurred over the same period of time, and what it found over the long run was that going test optional caused a decrease in racial and economic diversity on those campuses, exactly the opposite impact that the institutions claimed it would have.
A 2014 dissertation by John McLaughlin, formerly of Smith College, included a statistical analysis of Smith’s experience going test optional in 2008. What he found after looking at the evidence was that, compared to other single-gender institutions, white women were more likely to apply to Smith after it went test optional, and black women were less likely to apply. As a result, Smith was less diverse, which McLaughlin said was an unfortunate side effect of a test-optional policy shift.
Third claim: If standardized tests exist, then wealthy students with access to high-cost test prep and coaching are going to have an unfair advantage.
Jack: We looked at this claim at the College Board and decided that, while we don’t know if it is true, we have the ability to make it false. So we partnered with Khan Academy to provide free, personalized practice to all students. After looking at initial data following the first administration of the new SAT, we’ve had more than 1 million unique students use Khan Academy — that’s four times as many students who use all major commercial test prep combined. That’s also 60–70 percent of every demographic or income subgroup, including students from families who make $250,000 or more.