Furman explores 'SAT-optional'
Published: Friday, April 21, 2006
Updated: Monday, May 23, 2011 16:05
If a new admissions policy is enacted, future Furman applicants may not have to worry so much about their scores from the SAT, the standardized test that has long been one of the most important factors in the college admissions process.
According to Tom Kazee, vice president of academic affairs and dean, the university has been considering a switch to an optional SAT policy for applicants, a move that could possibly encourage a more diverse spectrum of applicants.
Kazee, who has been corresponding with administrative members at universities that have implemented a similar policy, said that the greatest benefit has been an increased variety of applicants who may be strong, motivated students but have a lower SAT score for one reason or another.
One of the problems with standardized testing, said Kazee, is the alleged bias toward whites and students of a higher socioeconomic status who can afford to enroll in SAT preparation courses.
Also, he said, the recent SAT scoring errors underscore concerns that the university has already had about the exam and the critical role it plays throughout the nation.
According to Benny Walker, vice president for enrollment, several colleges across the country are considering implementing new admissions policies that would lessen the importance of standardized testing in the complex world of college admissions.
Other universities that have adopted this policy include Bates College in Maine, Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania.
Bates conducted a study comparing student performance before and after the policy and found no discernible difference, according to Kazee.
Although the test is designed to correlate with performance during a student's first year of college, Kazee called the test an only "modestly good predictor" of future academic success, saying that the three or four digit score shows only a small spectrum of an applicant's academic motivation, achievement or talent.
However, if the SAT score is not submitted, there are concerns that admissions would not have sufficient information to judge applicants. To make up for the absence of the standardized test score, admissions may require students to submit more information, such as a portfolio, and will look more closely at past performance in the high-school curriculum.
Advanced Placement tests, though distributed and graded by the same company that creates the SAT, are one important tool in examining the rigorousness of the applicants' high-school career. Of course, admissions must work hard to ensure they can receive an accurate understanding of each high school's curriculum by examining, for example, the upper level courses offered at the school.
The option to withhold the SAT score, said Kazee, may encourage otherwise strong students who are academically motivated but intimidated when comparing their score to Furman's average SAT scores. Students may submit the score if they so desire, which will certainly continue to be a factor for the majority of applicants.
"I want Furman to seem accessible to a wide variety of talented students," said Kazee.
One possible concern is the impact that the policy would have on the university's reputation. Furman doesn't want to give the appearance of lowering its academic standards if it does adopt the policy.
In looking into how other schools have fared with an SAT-optional policy, Kazee said that he has not noticed any negative effects.
"So far, the responses have been uniformly positive," he said.
Students, however, are not so confident.
"I don't understand why we compare ourselves to schools like Vanderbilt and Davidson," said senior chemistry major Paul Weisbruch. "when we are taking steps that are likely to lower the quality of our students."
At this point, the proposed policy is merely under consideration, although Kazee said he hopes to reach a preliminary conclusion by the end of the term. The implementation date, if enacted, remains unknown. The university wants to make sure that this policy is carefully considered before any decision is made.