Boston University announced it would extend its test-optional admissions policy for Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 applicants, nearly a year after the school initially made this decision.
The policy allows prospective students to choose whether the University considers their standardized test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, in their application to BU.
Dean of Admissions and Associate Vice President for Enrollment Kelly Walter said the decision was made once officials understood that current challenges regarding standardized testing were expected to continue.
“It became crystal clear that this school year was going to be extremely disruptive,” Walter said, “and that students would not likely have access to standardized test administrations in the way they had previously.”
She noted around 1.5 million high school seniors took the SAT this year — a number she said is usually closer to 3.1 million.
BU initially announced a test-optional policy in March, making it one of the first universities to do so, Walter said. However, the decision to extend the policy was not entirely based on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When you think about issues around access and diversity,” Walter said, “there is no doubt that test-optional policies encourage more students to apply to especially selective institutions that they wouldn’t have applied to before.”
The purpose of standardized tests is to predict first-year GPA. But, there are better ways to anticipate how a student will perform during all four years of college, Walter said.
“High school GPA is the single strongest predictor of how a student will do at BU,” she said.
Walter said BU has a high correlation between high school GPA and first-year GPA that is only marginally improved by adding standardized testing. Test scores on their own have a lower predictive validity, she said.
College Board Director of Media Relations Jaslee Carayol wrote in an emailed statement the value of the SAT has been backed by research.
“Years of research have consistently demonstrated that the SAT is a valid predictor of first-year college success for all students,” Carayol wrote, “regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic status.”
She noted the test is designed with a diverse sampling of students to ensure it avoids bias and discrepancies.
“Every question on the SAT is researched and pre-tested,” Carayol wrote, “with a representative sample of students to ensure quality and prevent bias.”
Walter said she looked forward to doing more research and the admissions policy for Fall 2023 is “still up in the air.”
“The pandemic has given us the push in some ways that we needed to go in this direction,” Walter said. “By being test-optional, we have removed that blind spot perhaps that people might have as they’re reading applications.”
Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, program director of educational policy studies at the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, said the SAT can benefit students with greater access to test-prep resources, such as tutoring.
“You’re essentially able to pay for a rising score of the 200 points on your SAT,” Tichnor-Wagner said. “Is that really measuring your aptitude or is that measuring the resources you have?”
Tichnor-Wagner said she wasn’t sure the College Board could fully address the discrepancy caused by the difference in resources for some students.
“Early standardized tests were really developed as a way to sort and rank different people, largely by race, ethnicity, gender and class,” she said. “A lot of this is born out of the eugenics movement.”
Tichnor-Wagner said she recommended bringing in a more diverse set of test-makers and students who the test would be piloted on.
Sam Magid, a New Jersey high school senior who has been accepted into the College of Arts and Sciences, said they took the ACT before the COVID-19 pandemic, but appreciated having the option to send in the score.
“When you take it, it’s only something that can help you when they’re not requiring it,” Magid said.
CAS sophomore August Menchaca said he thought the SAT was flawed, but provides colleges with useful information.
“I think it is a kind of good measure for general knowledge in subjects like English and math,” Menchaca said. “I think there are better measures for performance.”
Menchaca said he agreed with BU’s test-optional policy because it allowed students who wanted to use it as an extra indicator of their performance to do so without disadvantaging students who would struggle to take it.
“Especially because it’s gonna be really hard to take because of COVID,” he said.
Magid said they agreed with BU’s decision to extend the test-optional policy.
“Tests like that can’t really represent everyone,” they said. “They’re just not as accessible or as easy to take for people with different incomes, different learning styles, stuff like that.”