Magazine article Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education

Should SATs Be Considered in the Admissions Process?: Mount Holyoke Opts for Optional

Magazine article Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education

Should SATs Be Considered in the Admissions Process?: Mount Holyoke Opts for Optional

Article excerpt

Mary Lyon, who founded Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass., in 1837, faced many challenges, such as starting a women's college during an economic depression and trying to free women from the stereotype that they were better suited to the kitchen and nursery than the demands of higher education.

We'll never know how Lyon, who upheld rigorous academic entrance requirements, would have felt about the role the SATs play in determining who attends Mount Holyoke, but it's an issue at the forefront for the school's current president, Joann Creighton.

Creighton has decided to make it optional for applicants to submit their SAT scores for admission to Mount Holyoke starting with the class entering in 2001 and continuing for a trial period of five years.

Like Lyon before her, Creighton is often faced with decisions that affect not only Mount Holyoke but may set a standard for all of higher education. She does not take the decisions lightly.

"As you know, there is a vigorous national debate about the role standardized testing should play in American education," Creighton said. "At Mount Holyoke, we have been grappling for some time with this question. Troubled by the exaggerated importance the SAT has assumed in higher education and following a long, thoughtful discussion, our faculty voted by a wide margin to support an optional SAT admission policy. This step is deeply consonant with our mission and values and with our highly individualized admission selection process."

While some may suggest this is a ploy to increase declining enrollment, Jane Brown, vice president for enrollment and college relations, said Mount Holyoke's enrollment is solid and has increased 30 percent in the past three years.

So why make the SAT optional? High school guidance counselors told Brown some students viewed the test as such an obstacle that they wouldn't apply to Mount Holyoke, even though the SAT carried only about 10 percent of the weight in the admissions decisions. Administrators felt this prevented the school from casting the widest possible net and reaching the most diverse group of students.

Diversity was not the main reason for the change though, nor was the fact that women tend to score lower on the SAT than men traditionally do, Brown said. According to the 2000 College Board Seniors National Report, females tended to score lower than men by an average of 38 points.

Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, pointed out that "this is an indication of the test's flaws." Even the test's promoters admit that young women earn higher grades in college, the very result the SAT is supposed to predict, he said.

The driving force behind Mount Holyoke's decision was the opinion of administrators who believe the qualities students need to be successful there are not necessarily addressed by the SAT.

"We look for evidence of academic achievement in rigorous and challenging courses, and we also look for less tangible qualities such as intellectual curiosity, thoughtfulness, motivation, leadership potential, creative ability, civic and social conscience, and idealism," Creighton said. "These qualities are not addressed by the SAT, and we fear requiring the test gives it disproportionate emphasis."

Brown said the College Board tries to provide the most fair, most just test and the school is not implying that the test has no value. "We are just saying it has deficiencies and that we can make decisions with or without it. Sometimes the test is a good predictor of success but for others it really is not."

The school prefers to encourage high school students to focus on activities that will contribute to their longterm intellectual and personal growth, such as class projects, independent research, and public service rather than on time-consuming and expensive strategies to raise their SAT scores. …

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