Background. Against a backdrop of national discussions concerning appropriate use of standardized tests in college admission, DePaul University adopted a ''test-optional'' pilot for freshman admission starting with applicants to the 2012 entering class. It is believed that DePaul is the largest private, not-for-profit university to implement a process that does not require the submission of any standardized test scores for admission. This change was unanimously approved by the DePaul University Faculty Council at its February 9, 2011, meeting.
DePaul University views student capabilities as more complex than those measured by standardized tests, and we view student success as more than first-year grades. For many students, indicators other than test scores allow us better insight into student capabilities (and along different dimensions) and likelihood of success not only in the first year but over the entirety of the collegiate career.
Moreover, standardized test scores are strongly correlated with income, and scores vary dramatically across ethnic groups, raising questions about their fairness to all members of our society. The prevalence of the ''test preparation industry'' and the ability of wealthier students to take standardized tests repeatedly contributes to the debate about equity. This debate rages on while students and parents find themselves caught up in anxiety over testing and college admission that serves no one well.
This is not a blanket dismissal of the value of standardized testing; standardized tests may be helpful for institutions that deny far more applications for admission than they accept, adding an additional criterion to draw distinctions between large numbers of students whose academic performance is compressed at the top of the curve. However, we also believe a disproportionate reliance on standardized test scores causes many colleges to overlook applications from motivated, high-achieving students who may have a great deal to offer colleges, but who--for whatever reason--don't perform well on standardized tests.
Supporting research. Time and time again, studies (including our own) have shown that the best predictor of a student's performance in college is his or her performance in a rigorous, college preparatory program in high school. While both the ACT and SAT help predict freshman-level grades, on a student-by-student basis test scores add little incremental value over and above the high school GPA. Many research studies have found that high school grades are far better predictors of longer-term student outcomes, such as retention and graduation.
In light of these findings, DePaul is heeding the challenge put forth in the 2008 Report of the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission published by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) that encourages universities to ''consider dropping the [standardized] admission test requirements if it is determined that the predictive utility of the test...support that decision and if the institution believes that standardized test results would not be necessary for other reasons such as course placement, advising or research.'' NACAC is the largest body of professionals dedicated to assisting students in the transition from high school to college.
Peer institutions. In offering a test-optional alternative for admission, DePaul joins the ranks of such schools as Bates College, Lawrence University, Providence College, College of the Holy Cross, Dickinson College, Pitzer College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Wake Forest University that have successfully implemented similar admission policies. In fact, as of fall 2011, 36 of the top 100 liberal arts colleges, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, are test-optional.
Student-centered admission. DePaul shares in promoting the ideas expressed by NACAC and our colleagues at other test-optional institutions: that student capabilities and motivations are more complex and nuanced than a single number; some admission practices may be calcifying inherent inequalities related to wealth, ethnicity and gender; and the frenzied focus on testing in high school detracts from learning core subjects in high school.
In adopting this approach, DePaul seeks to further enhance our student-centered approach to admission, supporting the conviction that four years of performance and learning in high school are far more important than performance on a four-hour test.
The test-optional decision at DePaul comes at a time of unprecedented growth in applications to the freshman class. It comes after DePaul has enrolled freshmen classes in recent years that have the best academic profile in its history, and with record levels of retention and academic performance in the first year of college. It also comes as DePaul remains a trailblazer in economic and racial/ethnic diversity in its freshman class, with one-third of freshman identifying as a student of color, and a similar number qualifying for federal Pell Grants for students from low-income families. As an institution visibly grounded in the Vincentian mission, DePaul takes this step from a position of strength with increasing demand, improving quality and an already diverse student profile.