Kettura Bennett sat for the SAT three times and was never satisfied with her scores on the standardized test most colleges and universities use as a primary gauge to grant admission.
Bennett, a high school senior in Camden, was worried her SAT scores – she scored 1,670 on the new 2,400-point version – might keep the college of her choice. So she decided to apply to Drew University, a small liberal arts college in Madison, N.J., that doesn’t require a standardized test score as part of the application process.
Last year, Drew became the first four-year college in New Jersey – but one of hundreds across the country – to make SAT or ACT scores an optional part of the application process. Since the change, Drew officials say applications have increased, and they hope the new policy also will attract brighter students.
Instead of a standardized test score, students who apply to Drew can submit a graded high school paper.
Bennett submitted an essay she wrote for an advanced-placement English class at Brimm Medical Arts High School on her favorite book, Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel “The Awakening.”
Drew accepted Bennett, who plans on majoring in political science but also taking pre-med courses, and she chose to attend the Madison, N.J., school over other schools that accepted her using her SAT scores.
“I’m just not a good tester, I guess,” she said.
One of her classmates at Drew will be Griffin Levy, who was also dissatisfied with his SAT score, which was under 1,700 on both his tries on the new test.
“I thought maybe it would be a better option to send them an A-plus paper,” about immigration to the United States in the 19th century, said Levy, who is scheduled to graduate next month from Tenafly High School.
With test scores optional, Drew’s admissions officers are concentrating more closely on how well applicants did in high school.
They pay special attention to whether students took tough classes, and for leadership qualities.
Nearly nine of 10 Drew applicants for next fall still submitted standardized test scores, said Mary Beth Carey, dean of admissions and financial assistance. Students who did not send in test scores varied in most traits, except, Carey said, that they did not do exceptionally well on the exams.
Drew officials think the new admissions policy contributed to a 20 percent increase in applications from a year ago. They say it will take some time before they know whether it will bring in better students.
Carey said incoming students did slightly better in high school than this year’s freshmen. Their average grade-point average was 3.44, up from 3.40, she said.
Nationally, more than 700 schools, or about one-fourth of all four-year colleges, have made admissions tests optional, according to Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a group that opposes overuse of standardized testing.
While most of those schools are not selective institutions where scores would make much of a difference, the list includes some prestigious liberal-arts schools such as Bates in Maine and Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts.
One problem with the SATs, Schaeffer said, is that wealthier students have easy access to tutors and test-prep classes that can make them look better on paper.
“Going test-score optional sends a signal to applicants that this is a school where you’re more than your score,” Schaeffer said.
But not all schools who dropped standardized tests reported success.
Pennsylvania’s Lafayette College experimented from 1994 to 1998 with making SAT scores optional. But Barry McCarty, dean of enrollment services, said it turned out that having the test scores available helped the college make better admissions decisions.
The College Board, the company that produces the SAT, does not have a position on whether it makes sense for schools not to require the exam. But spokeswoman Caren Scoropanos said the test is a useful gauge for assessing students.
“By dropping the SAT as a requirement, the college is losing a consistent measure of students,” she said. “The SAT and standardized tests do provide a consistent measuring stick.”
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