20-year Bates College study of optional SATs finds no differences

In a milestone 20-year study of its well-known policy for optional SATs for admission, Bates College has found no differences in academic performance or graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters.

The findings of the study will be presented Oct. 1 in Milwaukee at the 60th national conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

The Bates faculty voted to make SATs optional for admission to Bates in October 1984, and after five years of evaluation voted to make all testing optional in November 1990. From the outset, Bates shared its research results, and at this 20th anniversary, has conducted a comprehensive performance and outcomes analysis of about 7,000 submitters and non-submitters since 1984.

Bates Vice President William C. Hiss, who led the Bates admissions office as dean or vice president from 1978 to 2000, said the findings “raise a national policy issue: Does standardized testing narrow access to higher education, significantly reducing the pool of students who would succeed if admitted?”

Hiss noted that standardized tests can be one of several barriers to higher education. Increased college costs, cuts to K-12 budgets that affect guidance, higher education cuts in either financial aid or course offerings, and standardized testing may all contribute to reduced access for low-income students.

Among the findings of this 20-year study:

  • The difference in Bates graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters is 0.1% (one-tenth of one percent).
  • The difference in overall GPAs at Bates is .05 (five-hundredths of a GPA point); the exact difference is 3.06 for non-submitters and 3.11 for submitters.
  • Bates has almost doubled its applicant pool since making testing optional; about a third of each class at Bates enters without submitting testing in the admissions process.
  • Testing is not necessary for predicting good performance; the academic ratings assigned by Bates admissions staff are highly accurate for both submitters and non-submitters in predicting GPA.
  • Optional testing policies are often assumed to be a device for affirmative action efforts. Students of color use an optional testing policy at somewhat higher than average rates, and Bates has increased its enrollment of students of color and international students. But white students using the policy outnumber students of color by 5-to-1.
  • The policy draws sharply increased application rates from all the subgroups who commonly worry about standardized testing: women, U.S. citizens of color, international citizens, low-income or blue collar students, rural students, students with learning disabilities and students with rated talents in athletics, the arts or debate.
  • There are very modest differences in the majors that submitters and non-submitters choose at Bates, but some intriguing patterns: Non-submitters are more likely to major in fields that put a premium on creativity and originality.
  • There are modest differences in the career outcomes of submitters and non-submitters, with one glaring exception: the four fields where students have to take another standardized test to gain entrance to graduate programs for medicine, law, an M.B.A. or Ph.D. In fields where success does not depend on further standardized testing—including business executive officers and finance careers—submitters and non-submitters are equally represented.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) national conference is the largest annual gathering of college admission professionals. The conference attracts more than 4,000 attendees annually, including secondary school counselors, college admission officers, independent counselors, financial aid administrators, enrollment managers and affiliate organization members.

Related information:

Graphics supporting the findings of the study are available at: http://home.bates.edu/views/2004/10/10/powerpoint-analysis/

William C. Hiss’ prepared remarks are available at: http://home.bates.edu/views/2004/10/01/sats-at-bates/

NPR, “All Things Considered”, January 4, 2005: http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=2&prgDate=4-Jan-2005

Outside press responses to William C. Hiss’ study: