Most college students might remember a particularly stressful, or at least annoying, time in their high school careers: taking the SAT or the ACT. Starting with the high school class of 2007, some high school seniors with a phobia for standardized testing may have a large college option to consider.
George Mason University has adopted a score-optional policy that allows students with a grade-point average above 3.50 and strong academic showing to apply without submitting SAT or ACT scores.
As GMU prepares to accept its first class under this policy in the fall of 2007, many eyes are once again focused on the largest public educational institution in the capital area, waiting to witness the outcome of the non-traditional decision.
"What we're doing is probably less revolutionary than a lot of programs," said Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions for George Mason University.
Flagel was quoted in the ?Mason Gazette,? saying that the SAT was "at best, a weak predictor of incoming college students performance for freshmen who have strong academic performance in high school."
GMU began research into the relationship between standardized tests scores and college performance almost three years ago, Flagel said. The findings indicated that there was little to no correlation between the GPA obtained at the end of the first year in college and the students' average SAT scores.
The results of the statistical analysis also determined that students who were at risk of being denied admission based on SAT scores, but who had high secondary school GPAs, tended to show success in college despite the prediction of the SAT.
Students who choose to apply under the score-optional method must meet or exceed the 3.5 high school GPA requirement, have taken the most difficult courses offered by their high school, and have ranked or estimated in the top 20 percent of their class. They must also provide two additional letters of recommendation and submit an essay.
Several applicants are ineligible for score-optional consideration, including Honors applicants, University Scholars and Scholarship Program participants, Engineering students, home-schooled students and athletes seeking to be on one of GMU's NCAA teams. These programs are "very dependent" on data from standardized tests, Flagel said.
Norrine Bailey Spencer, associate provost and director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Virginia Tech, was present during a meeting of the directors of senior public institutions where Flagel explained the policy.
"I have a real open mind about it," she said. "I'm anxious to see how it works out. Everyone else who's done that have been small, private schools who don't have much range in their SAT scores."
However, Spencer said Virginia Tech admissions will continue to include SAT and ACT consideration.
"With over 19,000 applications, we have to rely on some standardized tests," Spencer said.
The scores are, however, one of many factors that undergraduate admissions takes into account, with course selection and GPA taking precedence, and qualities such as leadership, ethnicity, choice of major, personal statements, legacy status and special talents also playing a role.
"We consider it a very helpful tool in the context of all those other things," Spencer said.
Flagel calls the program "a very cautious approach," currently limited to the aforementioned students and up for review as more data comes in.
"I think that every institution has an obligation and does review their admissions standards on a regular basis," he said. "What is drawing some attention on Mason's policy is that we made a proactive decision very publicly. Part of that is to bring some clarity and transparency to the admissions process. The admissions process in Virginia has become incredibly competitive and student stress is a cause of concern for many of us."
The stress issue is one several students relate with.
"I think it's a good idea," said junior and aerospace engineer Mike Sherman. "I don't think standardized tests always reflect how well students do, but some still freak out about it."
The SAT has existed since 1901 and was introduced to provide an equal indicator of student performance across the country, within both private and public schools.
"It's very attractive to take one test that everyone takes in the exact same way," Flagel said. "But if you know the test isn't giving you good information, then you may as well use any arbitrary number ? say shoe size."
GMU?s admissions office is trying to stay clear of an antagonistic position.
"Our intention is not to say that the test never has any use. Our data showed that for students who are not applying with a strong GPA, there may be some use to it,? Flagel said. ?This is not an effort to make a dramatic shift or make a philosophical statement as much as it is to really clarify a direction that most institutions have been going in for many years. Very few institutions place as much weight on standardized tests as students and parents think. I think you'll see a number sharing more publicly how admissions are decided. Hopefully, it will decrease that level of anxiety that accompanies the standardized tests."