Two-year study from universities will examine fairness of test-optional policies

The goal is to ensure that all students groups receive equitable assessments during the admissions process.
By: | March 24, 2022
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On the strength of a $1.4 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Maryland and researchers from several other institutions are launching an intensive two-year study to determine the fairness of higher education test-optional admission policies at selective institutions.

Kelly Rosinger, an education professor at Penn State University who is co-principal on the initiative, titled “Test-Optional Admissions Policy Equity Outcomes”, is part of a team that will assess whether the elimination of SAT and ACT requirements do enroll more diverse pools of prospective students. At liberal arts institutions that are highly selective and are seeing huge spikes in applications, there is evidence in the researchers’ initial findings that it is not happening. “This early work indicated test-optional policies, at least in some contexts, helped institutions more than they helped students,” Rosinger said. “In doing so, these policies can end up reproducing the same inequities.”

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 1,820 colleges and universities have adopted or expanded test-optional policies in some fashion, spurred on by further inequities to underserved students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, because of the competitiveness at institutions that still allow for scores to be submitted, colleges that aren’t test-blind may be giving them weight during the admissions cycle and potentially being more selective in the process. Still, any test-optional policy might be better than the alternative.

“We know the use of test scores in the college admissions process is concerning from an equity perspective,” Rosinger said. “The hope is our research can offer some insights into how we could reimagine college admissions in a way that could produce more equitable outcomes for students of color and low-income students that are underrepresented at these campuses.”

Maryland’s Julie Park and Brian Kim, Colorado State University’s OiYan Poon and Southern Methodist University’s Dominique Baker are joining Rosinger in gathering application, acceptance and yield data to see if they can find any patterns. They plan to include all policies currently been employed by institutions within the study, including those that allow for alternative tests to be submitted and those that require them for entry. And they will cross-reference institutions by type – for example, “highly selective vs. less selective and white-serving versus minority-serving” to see whether test-optional is in fact working.

The goal, no matter what the data reveals, will be to ensure that institutions are looking closely at their own numbers to compare

“Through this research, we hope to contribute to ongoing discussions regarding how college admissions practices and policies can be designed to create more equitable college campuses,” Rosinger said.