GW becomes latest school to join fast-growing test-optional movement

WASHINGTON (SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP) George Washington University's (GW) announcement that they are adopting a test-optional admissions policy makes the university the latest to join what College Counselor Colleen Ganjian calls a "growing movement."

The new policy announced by GW on Monday goes into effect August 1, and gives applicants the option to include standardized test scores as part of their application, the university said in a statement.

"This year, students who do not think their SAT or ACT scores are an accurate reflection of their academic potential can choose not to submit them," the statement read.

Advocates of test-optional admissions policies are applauding GW's decision and believe it will send a message to other colleges and universities.

"To have a top tier national university in the nation's capital join the test optional movement is an important symbol to other colleges and universities across the nation that you don't need test scores to do high quality admissions," Bob Schaeffer of The National Center for Fair and Open Testing said.

"It's big to see a major doctoral institution like GW moving in this direction," Ganjian explained.

Schaeffer believes that there is "no doubt" other universities will begin to investigate adopting test-optional policies and follow in GW's footsteps.

As Schaffer described, GW's announcement is further evidence that test-optional policies are becoming more "mainstream."

"It isn't just a strategy implemented by unusual schools like Bard and Hampshire but also public schools like Temple and Old Dominion," Schaffer said.

"Public perception [of test-optional admissions policies] has clearly changed," Williams Hiss the Principal Investigator of a study which examined the effect of test-optional studies and former admissions dean at Bates College stated.

Hiss was Dean of Admissions when Bates adopted their test-optional policy. When Bates began researching their policy Hiss said test-optional admissions was seen as an "idiosyncratic policy for small liberal arts colleges." Now, Hiss said "large public universities are going test optional and making it work just fine."

Hiss explained that when Bates adopted their test-optional admissions policy back in the 1980s, there were some skeptics. "It was the occasional snarky comment that [colleges adopting test-optional policy] must not be all that competitive," Hiss said.

Jennifer Gayles the Dean of Admissions at Sarah Lawrence College said she still has to explain "that test optional doesn't mean a school isn't selective and that [applicants] still have to show a strong academic profile among other factors to have a competitive application."

Wake Forest Dean of Admissions Martha Allman recalled concerns over whether applicants would continue to view Wake Forest as selective when they were adopting their test-optional policy.

Allman remembers the question: "Will Wake Forest Still continue to churn out Rhodes Scholars?" even came up.

Allman noted that the university has had at least two Rhodes Scholars since adopting the policy, and pointed to the study Hiss and his colleague Valerie W. Franks conducted.

The in-depth study called Defining Promise examined everything from the outcomes of standardized testing policies at 33 public and private colleges and universities to the likelihood of a student to make use of an optional testing policy.

"Schools that are test flexible, like Hamilton, generally believe that there is value in requiring testing but they are giving students a menu of options from which to choose to meet that testing requirement," Monica Inzer, the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Hamilton College explained. Inzer did note that schools that require SATS believe and have usually proven that the test has predictive powers.

The Defining Promises study analyzed 123,000 student and alumni records and found that "few significant differences between submitters and non-submitters of testing were observed in Cumulative GPAs and graduation rates, despite significant differences in SAT/ACTscores. Allman said that "all the data is showing the same thing no statistical difference between submitters and non-submitters.

The Defining Promise study also found that optional testing policies helped build broader access to education, something Hiss witnessed during his time as Dean of Admissions.

"Over time, young people who had proved themselves to everyone but the testing agencies figured out that Bates would take them seriously as applicants and those people started applying." Niss described many of those applicants as the first generation to attend college, students with some type of learning disability or "young people who are just brilliant at some things."

Allman explained that since adopting their optional testing admissions policy Wake Forest has collected its own data on students and it reflects what was found in the Defining Promise study. One particular change Allman noted was an increase in diversity.

"Ethnic diversity in the undergraduate population increased by 44 percent from Fall 2008, the final year in which scores were required, to the Fall of 2014," Wake Forest said on their Test Optional explanation page.

Allman shared that non quantifiable information from faculty and students also indicates the school benefiting from the policy. "There really are a lot more students coming from new perspectives," Allman described.

Allman said that at Wake Forest they also believe that they "are doing what we need to be doing as an admissions office."

As Allman noted the change has come with additional work and required more resources.

"We've increased the size of our staff a great deal," Allman explained. George Washington will likely have to make similar investments, according to Schaffer. "They will likely need additional staff so that they can read applicant's portfolios more in depth," Schaffer explained.

Schaeffer said that GW approached Fair Test regarding the steps they would have to take and that they've been connected with admissions leaders at similar institutions like Wake Forest to prepare for the changes that will come with the new policy.

Hiss speculated that because of the GW's graduate programs we may "have another layer of conversation ahead of us."

Speaking of the GMAT, GRE, LSAT and MCAT Hiss said: "I don't think the tests are any more predictive at the graduate level than they are at the undergrad."

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