NACAC committee evaluates admissions requirements

Lindsey Ahlen

Steve Syverson is very passionate about his jobs at Lawrence University. Through his position as the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, he has benefited our university with many great students who have contributed to Lawrence and come to love being here.
He is currently representing our university through his position on the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission.
His role on this commission has put him in the spotlight as a result of the commission’s report encouraging less emphasis on standardized testing as an admission requirement. An article that cited the report was published in The New York Times.
“One of the original goals of the SAT and ACT [was] to help level the playing field for college admission,” Syverson said.
“[The SAT and ACT] used to serve this purpose but are less effective in doing so now, because of the billion dollar test prep industry” that creates advantages for those who can afford extra testing and preparation courses.
Concerns about standardized testing and the misuse of the test prompted NACAC to create the commission about a year-and-a-half ago. Each one of the fifteen members on the commission had specific concerns with standardized testing.
Overall, the commission’s report acknowledges the value of standardized tests, but is critical of the misuse and overemphasis of testing. The commission is not saying that test prep does not work, but cautions that typical score increases are minimal.
The report goes on to encourage colleges to critically review the actual value of the tests in their admission process. “If it truly adds substantial value, great; if not, then the college should see if there is a better way of doing it,” said Syverson.
“The origins of standardized testing began in the 1900s. The tests have only been around for about one-third of Lawrence’s history,” said Syverson.
Lawrence University’s policy on SAT and ACT submission became a test-optional policy three years ago. Those who elect not to submit are asked to submit their scores after matriculation for research purposes.
Research done at Bates College found that the difference between a submitter’s GPA and a non-submitter’s GPA at Bates varied only five-hundredths of a grade point, and the graduation rates differed only a tenth of a percent.
The difference in standardized test scores was 160 points. Syverson said that the tests only tend to correlate strongly with the student’s GPA “at the end of the freshman year.”
What Syverson and the commission are working on now is promoting the idea of test-optional admissions requirements. At many colleges the test-optional approach appears to benefit the institution through larger applicant pools, usually including more women, minority groups and international students.
As Syverson travels the country recruiting new students, he is looking at something other than their test scores. Standardized testing does not always work well for students whose strengths are in creative learning, music, visual arts and independent thinking.
In the Jossey-Bass monograph “Key Issues in New Student Enrollment: New Directions for Student Services,” Syverson writes, “There was life before standardized tests, just as there will likely be life after standardized tests.

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