Lawrence Goes Test-Optional -dlh

Katharine Enoch

Lawrence University, led by the efforts of Dean Steven Syverson, has chosen to go test-optional for admissions requirements. Applicants will have the option to submit standardized test scores, taking effect for the 2006-7 applicant pool. The decision marks a bold, yet long-anticipated move on behalf of elite liberal arts colleges to remove the much-debated SAT and ACT requirements. Lawrence will be among the first top-tier liberal arts colleges to embrace a test-optional admissions policy.
As dean of admissions and financial aid, Syverson has been the driving effort behind the issue, stating that test scores, “are not what we value here.” He believes the change to be “very consistent with who we are as an institution,” describes the Lawrence position on the issue as a “moral-political stance.” “The tests have gotten out of control,” said Syverson, “They distort the relationship between students and colleges.” The change will make test score submissions optional while encouraging applicants to submit supplementary materials, allowing students to represent themselves as they choose.
Standardized tests have been proven to favor certain types of people while excluding, through inherent biases, students of color, students from lower income families, students from complicated family circumstances, and women in general. Syverson acknowledged that standardized tests, “create a greater divide … for kids with less privileged backgrounds,” and noted that the divide will continue to widen, with the expanding standardized test industry raking in over one-billion dollars annually.
The change in admissions policy comes linked to several timing factors. While the issue has been under discussion for several years, the administration has waited for the inauguration of current President Jill Beck. Recent initiatives to change the SAT and ACT standardized tests have also been reasons for the movement away from a test requirement at Lawrence. As of last Saturday, the ACT has added a writing component to the test; the SAT will follow suit in March. Syverson expects a two hundred million dollar increase in test industry revenues next year from the marketing of new preparatory courses and materials.
Syverson and the faculty that supported this new policy “saw only positives,” according to Professor Spurgin, chair of the Faculty Enrollment Committee. “This will be so highly applauded,” said Syverson, “it takes some guts to break away from what everyone else is doing.” Admissions hopes to see an increase in minority and lower-income applicants, who may be intimidated by standardized tests. Syverson believes the change will, “tend to attract more students who resonate to [Lawrence’s] message, the soul of the place.”
The Office of Admissions feels there are better ways to predict a student’s potential success. “More attractive to us are the things that aren’t measured by the test,” said Syverson. The most prominent and praised quality the faculty identifies in the student body is an excitement for learning. “If we had a test that measured motivation and enthusiasm for learning, I’d be willing to count that!” said Syverson. Admissions will begin looking into the correlation between GPA and high school course load and graduation rates as a more qualitative method of judging a student’s potential.
This decision is backed by the quantitative data supplied by Bates College’s report on the success of making test scores optional in its admissions process. The report concluded that the difference between the thirty percent of students from a class that did not submit test scores and the seventy percent of students that did only translated to a difference of 0.05 GPA points upon graduation. That margin was not significant enough to justify the requirement of test scores in the admissions process. “Experience suggests there is no strong connection,” said Spurgin of standardized testing.
Syverson also complained that standardized test scores are being used to judge the respectability of institutions. Tests were “never designed to evaluate the quality of colleges,” said Syverson. Yet, test score averages are published in admissions material as though they guarantee a first-rate education. Syverson also identified the increase is stress surrounding the college application process, citing test requirements as a prominent factor. “There is this preoccupation with test scores,” said Syverson.
“Ours is a very small voice out there,” noted Syverson, “we don’t think this is going to change the world.” Syverson did mention that this exemplary action will draw a lot of attention, considering that test score requirements are part of the admissions process at most universities and are frequently criticized by the academic community. “We’d be one of the first in the region to make this move,” said Spurgin. Lawrence released the official decision in a press release Thursday.