Temple making standardized tests optional

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Starting fall 2015 applicants to Temple University will not have to submit standardized test scores, the university announced Tuesday, making it the first public research university in the Northeast to adopt a test-optional admissions policy.

In an attempt to increase accessibility and broaden the pool of qualified applicants, Temple will offer students a choice of either providing test scores or completing four reflective short-answer questions — asking them, in 150 words or less, to describe a challenge they faced or explain what path they would follow if unable to attend college.

With these questions, school officials hope to ascertain information about applicants typically not measured by standardized tests, like self-awareness, perseverance and grit.

Dean Greg Anderson, Temple’s College of Education dean, said research conducted at Temple and nationally has shown high school GPAs to be a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores. Taking this into account and considering the declining number of applications from Philadelphia and other urban centers (where students often lack access to test preparation resources), Temple concluded that allowing students to choose how to best present themselves was the most democratic and rigorous way to approach admissions.

With its decision, Temple joins more than 800 other universities in the U.S and about 30 in Pennsylvania with test-optional application processes, according to data from Fair Test, a Cambridge, Mass., group critical of standardized testing. Bryn Mawr College, a private women’s college outside Philadelphia, announced that it would no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores last week. Chatham University and Gettysburg College adopted similar policies in the past decade.

Bill Black, Temple’s senior vice provost for enrollment management, said he expects about 10 percent of applicants to use the new policy, called Temple Option.

Fair Test public education director Bob Schaeffer said Temple’s choice is notable due to its name recognition and size — most schools that have adopted test-optional policies are small liberal arts colleges with fewer applicants and more resources to conduct holistic reviews. In fall 2013, Temple received nearly 19,000 freshman applications, accepting around 64 percent.

Mr. Schaeffer called a test score requirement a “barrier to access,” arguing that not only are standardized tests biased, they are highly susceptible to high-priced coaching and weak predictors of academic success in college.

In a written statement, Jack Buckley, senior vice president of research for College Board, said the SAT remains an essential part of the admissions equation for the majority of U.S. universities. He also said the combination of high school GPA and SAT scores are the best predictors of college success, but he also noted that College Board respects colleges’ right to set their own admissions policies.

Earlier this year College Board announced a number of changes to the SAT, many aimed at making it more equitable. While these modifications are important and “long overdue,” Mr. Anderson said, standardized tests still favor those from wealthy backgrounds.

Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh all require applicants to submit standardized test scores. Pitt is not considering any changes to its standardized testing admissions requirement. Representatives of Carnegie Mellon and Penn State could not comment on possible changes by press time.

First Published July 30, 2014 12:00 AM

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