By LAURA GURFEIN
WASHINGTON (Nov. 27, 2009) - Salisbury University soon may permanently discard the standardized test admission requirement for well-qualified students, becoming the first public university in Maryland to do so.
Test-optional college admission is part of a growing national trend to de-emphasize standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT, in favor of grade point average, extracurricular activities and personal statements when considering a student for admission.
The test-optional policy used to be a trademark of small liberal arts colleges; however, larger schools such as Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., recently became test-optional, leading the way for more well-known universities to do the same.
"The research is becoming pretty undeniable that (a standardized test) isn't a good prediction of academic success," said Martha Allman, director of admissions at Wake Forest.
Even in Maryland, Salisbury will not be alone. McDaniel College, Washington College and Goucher Collge already have ended reliance on standardized tests for admission, and Loyola University Maryland is in the process of converting.
Standardized college tests, particularly the SAT, have been under fire for several years for alleged racial and ethnic bias. According to FairTest, an organization that highlights biases in standardized tests, going test-optional allows schools to attract a more diverse student body.
In November, FairTest reported that more than 830 American colleges and universities are test-optional, representing one-third of all accredited schools.
The definition of test-optional, however, depends on the individual school.
"When it gets down to the test-option level, oh my goodness, we're so different," said Carlton "Corky" Surbeck, director of admissions at Goucher College in Baltimore.
For Salisbury, students who have a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher can choose not to submit scores if they feel they do not accurately reflect their academic potential.
"High school GPA, even from a weak high school, is a better indicator of college success than the SATs," Salisbury president Janet Dudley-Eshbach said at a Board of Regents meeting in October.
In lieu of scores, students are asked to "provide a personal statement to support individual achievements and/or experiences that may not be evident from a review of the official high school transcripts," according to Salisbury's admissions Web site. Those applying for scholarships are encouraged to send scores.
Salisbury sought exemption from the Board of Regents' standardized test admission requirement in December 2006. The proposal highlighted score discrepancies on the "new" SAT. Starting that year, the test included a writing section worth 800 points, bringing the new high score to 2400.
The proposal noted that the average Maryland students' composite score declined 14 points in 2006, more rapidly than the national average's seven-point dip.
So far, the university has been happy with the caliber of students test-optional admittance has permitted.
"We're very pleased with our current student body. We think the policy has allowed for greater access," said Ellen Neufeldt, vice president of student affairs at Salisbury.
Neufeldt said that the policy has allowed for greater socioeconomic diversity in the student body. Students who cannot afford to take the test two or three times to improve their scores now have greater opportunities, she said.
According to Salisbury's assessment report to the Board of Regents submitted Sept. 3, both test-submitting and non-test-submitting students had similar grade-point averages and retention rates over two years.
Salisbury's administration chose a five-year trial period so they could see two test-optional classes graduate.
"Up to this point, the campus believes it has been a success," Patricia Florestano, regent and chair of the Education Policy Committee, said in October.
Some test-optional schools have even fewer requirements when it comes to score submission.
Students applying to Goucher are not required to submit any test scores regardless of grade-point average or class rank. However, scores are required for merit scholarship consideration, a holdover from previous standards, according to Surbeck.
The school is in its last year of a three-year, test-optional trial period, but it is not sure whether the policy will continue next year. Surbeck said a decision will be made in the next six months, giving high school students graduating in 2011 the opportunity to take a standardized test, if necessary.
At Washington and McDaniel colleges, only students who have a grade-point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale or rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class can choose not to submit scores.
Loyola University Maryland is starting a test-optional trial period this application cycle. Students who choose not to submit scores are required to write an additional essay about Jesuit values, which is the optional supplemental essay on the Common Application.
"We feel like, through the academic coursework that students take, the demanding nature of the curriculum choices they make, and through all other aspects of their application, along with their GPA, we can make an informed (admissions) decision without scores," said Elena Hicks, director of undergraduate admissions at Loyola.
Although Salisbury is the first public school in the University System of Maryland to adopt a test-optional policy, it is not necessarily recommending others to do the same.
"What's right for Salisbury may not be right for another school," Neufeldt said. "It is an independent decision for each school."
Teri Hollander, the university system's associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said that other system schools are not looking to adopt a similar policy any time soon.
"At this time, UMBC and UMCP have no plans to consider this option," Hollander said in an e-mail, referring to the University of Maryland in both Baltimore County and College Park. "I believe our other institutions may consider the option at the conclusion of the pilot, but again this will be dependent upon the results of the pilot, and careful research and analysis of their own institutional data on student success factors."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.