Against a backdrop of national discussions about the appropriate use of standardized tests in college admission, DePaul University will implement a test-optional admission policy for freshman admission starting in fall 2012. DePaul is believed to be the largest private non-profit university in the nation to implement the test-optional program.
Under the program, applicants would submit their high school transcripts and can choose to submit either their ACT or SAT test scores or answer a number of open-ended essay questions. The questions are aimed at eliciting evidence of students’ experience and other characteristics that have been shown to be better predictors of student success in college than standardized test scores, said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for Enrollment Policy & Planning at DePaul.
Research by DePaul and experts at other institutions shows that the best predictor of a student’s success in college is his or her performance in a rigorous, college preparatory program in high school, and that standardized test scores add little if anything to that, Boeckenstedt said. In some cases, standardized test scores may even skew admission toward students who are good test-takers while eliminating those who are not, he said.
“Test scores don’t add much above and beyond high school GPAs, and researchers point out that test scores vary widely by income and ethnicity,” Boeckenstedt said. “This raises some concerns about putting certain students with strong high school performance at a disadvantage.”
Providing a test-optional admission route benefits students who lack the resources to test multiple times or take advantage of expensive test preparation or coaching, Boeckenstedt said. It also simplifies the process for students who have achieved in high school, but not necessarily in a high-stakes testing environment.
The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., president of DePaul, said the new test-optional admissions policy is a result of several years of tracking student success at DePaul.
“We learned that the combination of their high school GPA and their extracurricular accomplishments are better predictors of college success than SAT or ACT scores,” Holtschneider said. “We also learned that this approach better helped us identify non-traditional students who would do very well here.”
DePaul’s decision to move toward test-optional came as a result of three years of using the Diamond project, which uses essay questions to measure student attributes such as leadership, long-term goals, positive self-concept and a supportive family in the admission process.
David Kalsbeek, senior vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing, agreed. “Data show that it’s the right thing to do. It’s better for the student and the university. The things we measure with Diamond really do level the playing field.”
DePaul’s test-optional pilot program will run four years – until 2016, when its impact will be evaluated and it will be determined whether it will become a permanent admission policy at the university, Boeckenstedt said.
Visit the DePaul website for more information about the test-optional program.