Fair or Not – Standardized Testing Required for Most College Applicants


Jimmy Turek, Staff Writer

As Nazareth Seniors wade through the choppy waters of the college admissions process and Juniors just begin to get their feet wet with college options, many students are concerned about how well they performed or will perform on the standardized college admissions tests, commonly known as the ACTs and SATs.  The anxiety provoking tests beg the question: are standardized tests a fair factor in the college admissions process?

Some say no.  A growing number of colleges are choosing to no longer require the scores for consideration for admission. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (known as FairTest), is an organization that states its mission is to advance “quality education and equal opportunity by promoting fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools” and work “to end the misuses and flaws of testing practices that impede those goals.”  It maintains a list of over 800 four-year colleges and universities across the United States which believe that test scores do not equal merit and which do not use the SAT or ACT to make admissions decisions.

Many of these institutions are art and music colleges that assess students on their special talents and abilities.  Others are quite well known, selective, and nationally ranked four-year colleges and universities.

For instance, applicants to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, a private school that is ranked #23 among national universities by U.S. News and World Report, do not need to submit test scores if they feel the scores do not accurately represent their academic abilities.  In 2008, Wake Forest decided to focus on applicants’ high school track records over a one-time test outcome.  The reason for Wake Forest’s decision was to build “a more balanced student body” and “buck a trend,” in keeping with its motto, “Pro Humanitate,” which means, “what we do for the sake of humanity.”

Providence College in Rhode Island, which U.S. News and World Report ranks as #2 in Regional Universities of the North, has a “Test-Optional Policy” that it adopted in 2006 after it conducted a study.  It does not require undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of the application.  Applicants who choose not to submit standardized test scores receive full consideration for admission, without any penalty.  Providence College adopted the policy for two primary reasons.  The first reason was that it believed that the strength of the applicant’s high school curriculum and grades were truly the best predictors of academic success in college.  The second reason was that it found that applicants often believed that a low test scored ruled out their chances for admission and decided not to even apply, and they wished to encourage all students who achieved success in high school to consider Providence College.

Nazareth senior Ethan Flanagan agrees with Providence College’s reasons for the Test-Optional Policy.  Flanagan believes the importance placed on standardized tests is unfair.  He says, “There are many positive qualities that people possess that are not measured by standardized tests” and that there should be more focus on an applicant’s individual qualities.

Closer to home, Knox College, in Galesburg, IL, a nationally ranked liberal arts college and also ranked #38 among “best value” colleges, considers first the types and difficulty of high school classes taken and lastly ACT and/or SAT scores if an applicant chooses to submit them.  Knox College states that it adopted this policy so an applicant can decide whether their “scores adequately reflect [their] abilities and potential in college.”  It advises that “there is no score above which” a person should decide to submit them.

Senior Sean Stanger agrees that standardized test scores do not necessarily indicate a student’s abilities or how well they will do in college.  He notes that some students are capable of memorizing a lot of information and doing well on standardized tests, while other students who do not perform as well can still be prepared for and do well in college.

Some schools that make the ACT and/or SAT tests optional in the application process still expect most applicants to submit scores.  DePaul University is listed as a test-optional school with FairTest.  However, unlike Wake Forest, Providence College, and Knox College, its website states only that an applicant “can choose to apply with or with ACT or SAT scores.”  A DePaul admissions representative stated that the policy was not meant for all applicants, but instead meant for students who have earned good grades in high school but who have tested very poorly on the standardized tests.

While 800 colleges and universities sound like and are a lot of schools, they still constitute only a small percentage of all colleges and universities in the United States.  In fact, approximately ninety percent of accredited colleges and universities require either the ACT or SAT, demonstrating that most school still consider the standardized tests as the best indication of how a student will do in college.  A 2006 study from the College Board found that SAT scores were as good as or better than grade point averages in predicting the level of success in college.  Senior Tyler Tobin agrees that standardized testing in the college admissions process if fair.  He states that all students take the exact same test and have the same opportunity to show what they know.

For now, the ACT and SAT remain an unpleasant reality for the college bound high schooler.  In fact, the New York Times reported in August of 2013 that a majority of high school students now take both the ACT and the SAT because they may do better on one kind of test over the other, and colleges will consider the highest score from either test.  Like most American high schoolers, Nazareth students will consider not whether to submit tests but whether to take both tests and how many times.