LEWISTON (AP) – A study released Friday by Bates College shows no decline in student performance since the liberal arts college made the SAT exam optional two decades ago.

Bates has been comparing the academic success of students who turn in their scores with those who don’t bother.

The results released at a conference in Milwaukee showed virtually no difference in academic performance or graduation rates.

Bates Vice President William Hiss, who was presenting the findings at the 60th annual conference of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, called the differences “staggeringly tiny.”

The study shows that the difference in overall grade point averages between those students who submitted their SAT scores and those who did not was just five-hundredths of a point. The difference in graduation rates was one-tenth of one percent.

SAT averages have become popular shorthand for the quality of an institution and its student body.

The Bates analysis, which covers the performance of about 7,000 students, raises questions about whether the standardized test is an unnecessary barrier to higher education that actually keeps out good students, Hiss said.

“After 20 years, five one-hundredths of a GPA point and one-tenth of one percentage of graduation rate? On this we hang the national sluice gates on who can go to college and where they go?” he said. “This makes no sense. I personally think that America may be significantly truncating its pool of people who would be successful if admitted, by requiring testing on the front end.”

Bates faculty voted to make SATs optional in 1984, and today about a third of each class enters the school without submitting SAT results.

When the school went back later and asked for the SAT scores of students who had not submitted them, they found a 160-point gap, on average, between submitters and nonsubmitters in their total scores. But that gap did not affect how well the students did in school, and made no difference between departments.

“There were almost no differences by department in GPA, no matter how much of a difference there was in the SATs of the students majoring in those departments,” Hiss said.

The study also compared the majors and career outcomes of students who submitted SAT scores and those who did not. It found that students who do not submit SAT scores are more likely to choose art, theater or other majors in which creativity and originality are important.

Hiss said the biggest surprise came in looking at the students’ career paths after school. The percentage of score submitters and nonsubmitters was about the same among students who became chief executive officers and financial analysts.

But students who chose medicine or law, or pursued an MBA or Ph.D. – all of which require more standardized testing – were more likely to be among the pool of students who had submitted their SAT scores when applying for college.

Hiss said it raises the question of whether these students are really the best, or are just the best test takers.

Students of color used the policy at a higher than average rate, Hiss said, but white students using it outnumber students of color 5 to 1.

The policy also improved application rates for women, low-income students, rural students and students with learning disabilities.

“What this shows very clearly is that colleges can admit students without looking at test scores with no sacrifice in the quality of their student body, while simultaneously enhancing the diversity of their student body,” said Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Cambridge, Mass.

AP-ES-10-01-04 0855EDT

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