A new research study, based on simulations using actual student applications at competitive colleges that require the SAT or ACT for admission, has found that ending the requirement would lead to demonstrable gains in the percentages of black and Latino students, and working class or economically disadvantaged students, who are admitted. The finding is consistent with what admissions officers have reported at many colleges that have gone SAT-optional. But the basis of this new research goes well beyond the anecdotal information reported by colleges pleased with their shifts. Scholars at Princeton University's Office of Population Research obtained actual admissions data from seven selective colleges that require the SAT or ACT. Using the actual admissions patterns for these colleges, the scholars then ran statistical models showing the impact of either going SAT-optional or adopting what they called the 'don't ask, don't tell' approach in which a college says that it won't look at standardized test scores. These models suggest that any move away from the SAT or ACT in competitive colleges results in significant gains in ethnic and economic diversity. But the gains are greater for colleges that drop testing entirely, as opposed to just making it optional. (To date, only one institution, Sarah Lawrence College, has taken that step.)
The study was conducted by Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton, and Chang Young Chung, a statistical programmer there. Espenshade said in an interview that he started the work without strong feelings about whether the SAT should be required, and that the work received no financial support from the College Board or entities engaged in either encouraging or discouraging use of standardized tests in admissions. In terms of other measures of academic competitiveness, the study found that going SAT optional would result in classes of students with higher grade point averages. Dropping testing entirely, on the other hand, would result in higher levels of academic achievement in the entering classes at the public institutions studied, but not the privates. The research will be formally presented next month at a conference at Wake Forest University about college admissions, but the Princeton researchers released the findings Wednesday. Parts of the findings may be controversial with both SAT critics and fans. The study found that, as the College Board has long argued, the SAT is a good way to predict the first-year academic success of students. But the study's findings on the impact of dropping the SAT as a requirement provide an independent analysis to show that dropping the SAT as a requirement does lead to increased diversity, and that is something many colleges want to promote.