By: Kelsey Hackem featuring IWF Senior Fellow Vicki Alger

Indiana University Bloomington will no longer require SAT or ACT test scores for most admissions, the Bloomington Faculty Council, which is responsible for academic standards, decided January 21, 2020.

IU-Bloomington joined the six other components in the IU System that have also elected to become test optional. IU is following in the footsteps of many other colleges and universities, says Vicki Alger, a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.

“Indiana University Bloomington is now one of more than 1,070 postsecondary institutions that do not require applicants to take standardized entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT,” Alger said.

Tests Aligned with Common Core

The SAT and ACT exams have evolved to reflect the public school curriculum, says Robert Holland, a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.

“Over the past 10 years that has meant major alignment with the nationalized Common Core English and math standards, which have favored informational texts over classic literature and conceptual math over computational math,” Holland said.

“As research has begun to document the failure of Common Core to raise student achievement or college readiness, the worth of college entrance tests linked to government-driven agendas comes into serious question,” Holland said.

Many high school graduates aren’t ready for post-secondary education, says Alger.

“The current controversy over standardized college admissions tests actually points to the larger issue of whether students are prepared for college courses in the first place—and a variety of measures indicate they’re not,” Alger said.

‘No Single Measure’ Perfect

SAT/ACT tests are supposed to predict an applicant’s likelihood of success in college, but there is no clear connection, says Alger.

“The reality is, no single measure of academic preparedness is perfect,” Alger said

“Institutions wishing to attract students capable of succeeding need to do the heavy lifting of defining their expectations, and differentiating those expectations across the majors they offer,” Alger said.

“For example, college-readiness for engineering majors is different than college-readiness for social work majors—unless postsecondary officials believe that degree candidates in these majors should take similar course loads in child development and differential equations.”

SAT/ACT ‘Monopolizing the Market’

College entrance exams should not be limited to two tests, says Holland.

“Standardized test results probably will always have a place in the college admissions process, but it is not a good thing for students or universities when entrance exams are a product of just two old companies monopolizing the market,” Holland said. “There ought to be a variety of methods for displaying and evaluating an individual’s ability to handle college-level work,” Holland said. 

Competition from new, innovative ways to evaluate students could improve the admissions process, says Holland. “The recent increase in test-optional colleges opens the door to private-sector entrepreneurs creating better ways to identify students who can benefit from higher education,” Holland said.

‘Common Core-Free’ Test

An alternative test to SAT/ACT is gaining acceptance, says Holland.

“One start-up that has experienced phenomenal growth since its creation by two brilliant Maryland friends in 2015 is the Classic Learning Test — a test wholly unlike the SAT and 100% Common Core-free. The CLT invites aspiring college students to dive into the works of the greatest thinkers in the Western tradition and show they understand timeless lessons about virtue, ethics, and morality.”

The CLT measures students’ mastery of subject matter and skills, says Holland.

“The CLT’s founders also do not shy away from some of the features of an aptitude test —analogies and logic, for example — that the College Board has ripped out of the SAT,” Holland said.

“The numbers of colleges accepting the CLT are now in the hundreds. This is not to say that this model necessarily would appeal to all students and all universities. But it is an example of innovation that could bring about many valid ways of assessing college applicants, perhaps eventually supplanting the SAT and ACT altogether.”

Students Can Affect Their Success

Prospective students should also think beyond a single test as the ultimate focus of the admissions process, says Alger.

“Students also need to do their part beyond trying to crush a single test,” Alger said. “They need to decide what degree they want to earn in college, and do the necessary research well ahead of time into the best institutions and programs for them—the required courses, costs, and how much they should spend on earning a college degree relative to what their chosen career earnings will likely be.”

The college admissions process could be improved in other ways, says Alger.

“Whether standardized admissions exams are required is a decision that should be left up to each postsecondary institution,” Alger said. “If they’re required, institutions and testing companies should take steps to ensure a level playing field for all applicants, including testing fee discounts, waivers, and test-preparation scholarships for students with demonstrated financial need.”