Persuaded that a test taken on one day of a teen-ager’s life is a poor measure of college readiness, Chapman University has decided that prospective students may now opt out of submitting SAT and ACT scores as part of their applications. The new policy takes affect for applicants seeking admission to Chapman in fall 2021.
Results from a two-year study of its own student population were the biggest factor in the university’s decision to adopt a test-optional policy, said Chapman University President Daniele C. Struppa. The research revealed that for Chapman students, high school grade point averages are a better predictor of college achievement than SAT and ACT scores. Indeed, the scores proved to be such weak predictors that giving them equal weight to GPA ended up creating an inaccurate devaluation of high school grades, which reveal much more about students’ commitment to genuine learning, Struppa said.
The tests’ usefulness had long been in question, but the university sought the data before making any policy changes.
Informed by Chapman Research
“Intuitively, I didn’t think that the SAT was a very good way of screening students. But of course, we are a serious institution. We wouldn’t do things just because I intuitively think it’s not a good idea,” he said.
The two-year study was conducted by Presidential Fellow and economic scientist Steven Gjerstad, Ph.D., Among its key discoveries was a declining correlation between a student’s success at Chapman and their standardized test score submitted upon admission.
Struppa didn’t discount the tests entirely, though, saying that in the past they offered some insight into students’ college readiness. But he cited test preparation as one reason for their diminished value.
“I think now with the ability of people, at least some groups of people, to prepare intensely for that particular test, that ability to make a prediction has diminished radically,” he said.
What the Tests Don’t Measure
Moreover, Chapman evaluates applicants in a holistic fashion that considers every facet of student readiness, from coursework to community service. Struppa credits that process for doing what standardized tests can’t – identifying the types of students who will thrive at Chapman.
“Our staff has already been able to tease out the ability of students in ways that are not captured by the SAT. So I suspect that part of the reason why for us GPA is already more predictive, is because of the entire process we put in place. So I would not be surprised if a different university were to run the same test and discovered that for them the SAT is a good predictor,” he said.
The change in the Chapman admissions requirement is part of a nationwide trend, fueled by widespread doubts as to the tests’ usefulness as well as criticism that the tests perpetuate inequities.
Struppa acknowledged the problems related to standardized tests and said he expects the new policy will contribute to the University’s commitment to expanded inclusivity. Most of all, though, he said the decision connects to the goal of enrolling the most promising students, many of whom have unique skills and talents that can’t be measured by any standardized test.
“Chapman is committed to ensuring we are an accessible campus,” Struppa said. “Standardized test scores have created a barrier to entry for many students who belong at a university, and we are now removing that barrier.”
Value in GPAs
“Over the years, we have seen a decline in the value of SAT and ACT in predicting student success as measured by first-year GPA. This held true for every academic discipline we measured,” said Mike Pelly, Chapman’s vice president of enrollment. “While students can still submit their scores if they feel it may help their application, withholding their score won’t work against an applicant.”
The university’s thorough admission review will continue to consider academic achievement in conjunction with a student’s grade point average, curriculum, leadership and service activities, essay, recommendations and school profile, Pelly said.
According to one major study of more than 955,000 applicants and 28 colleges and universities, institutions that have implemented such policies have seen increases in applications, a more diverse pool of applicants and greater diversity in enrolled students.
“Research nationwide shows that those who do not submit test scores graduate at the same or higher rates than other students,” said Pelly. “Here at Chapman, Dr. Gjerstad’s research validates that students who enter with a higher GPA and lower SAT/ACT scores, have a stronger first-year performance than their lower GPA/higher SAT/ACT peers.”
‘A Better Admission Standard’
“Our mission is to provide a distinguished and personalized education to students we believe will thrive at Chapman,” said Struppa. “The policy to remove the standardized test helps bring in students who otherwise may not have been admitted simply because they don’t perform well on a single test. We believe this provides a better admission standard for students of all backgrounds.”