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Are Optional Test Scores Optimal?

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Rebecca Rider, Writer
March 12, 2013
Filed under Student Life & News

Catawba is offering a new choice to students applying for the Fall 2013 semester: whether or not to submit standardized test scores. For prospective students with a high school GPA of 3.25 or higher, handing over their SAT and ACT scores for evaluation in the admissions process is now entirely optional. With this move, Catawba joins over 800 colleges nationwide that are opening their doors to a larger population of students who may have been slighted by bad test-taking abilities.

When asked why Catawba chose to make this move, Vice President of Enrollment Lois Williams said, “I don’t think that tests tell the whole story about a student.” By making scores optional, Catawba is trying to see a complex person, instead of a number.

SAT and ACT scores do serve an important purpose. Many schools use testing baselines to try and determine which students are most likely to graduate and succeed in their chosen fields. However, standardized tests aren’t always an accurate representation of a student’s abilities.

In the 2012 test-taking season, 57% of students did not meet the CollegeBoard’s benchmark score of 1550. That doesn’t mean that 57% of students aren’t prepared for college, didn’t receive a good high school education, or aren’t highly intelligent. It means that some students have an excellent high school career, but when they sit down for four hours on a Saturday morning to take a highly involved, highly complicated standardized test, scores may fall well below actual potential.

Some students just don’t test well. First generation students, who are the first in their family history to pursue higher education, tend to perform poorly on standardized tests. That’s an important thing to note, because 33% of the NC class of 2012 will be first generation students if they choose to pursue a degree.

These are the students that Catawba hopes to help by making test scores optional. “We’re trying to evaluate an entire student,” Williams said. The goal is to look at a student’s potential, not their test scores.

Students are still required to prove themselves. Should they choose to toss their scores, applicants will be required to submit other documents, including a leadership resume and a personal statement. The leadership statement is rigorous, detailing clubs, organizations, and leadership roles the student has participated in. The personal statement, in addition to providing more information, gives students the opportunity to say if they contribute to household income instead of participate in sports or extra-curriculars.

The SAT and ACT are time-consuming, expensive, and involved, and many students may be proud of their scores. In this case, scores can still be submitted for evaluation if the student thinks that is an accurate representation of their high school career. Even if scores will not be evaluated for admissions, Catawba will still be collecting them for research purposes.

Though Catawba has done significant research on similar programs, and has been in contact with several schools who have implemented similar measures, the program is new and still has a long way to go. “It’s not perfect,” Williams said. “The program will be up for constant evaluation and change, and in future years will likely look very different than it does today. What it does do, however, is to give students a chance to speak for themselves—instead of letting a single test score do it.”

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