ACT Report: College Test-Optional Policies Fail to Benefit Students

IOWA CITY, Iowa—Test-optional college admission policies fail to provide their intended student benefit of increasing campus diversity, according to a new report by ACT. The report, More Information, More Informed Decisions: Why Test-Optional Policies Do NOT Benefit Institutions or Students, urges colleges to use holistic admission models that consider a variety of factors, including standardized test scores, to determine student readiness for success.

A number of misconceptions about test-optional policies are exposed in the report, the biggest of which is that such policies help to increase the diversity of students enrolled at the college. The research evidence does not support this conclusion. While test-optional policies can significantly increase the number of applicants to the college, the diversity of the student body—students who actually enroll at the school—is largely unaffected.

“ACT respects the right of any college to determine the admission policies that best meet the goals of the institution and its students,” said Paul Weeks, ACT senior vice president of client relations. “But we recommend that institutions make these decisions based on research findings, rather than on recruitment goals. The body of research casts significant doubt on the effectiveness of test-optional policies in improving campus diversity, a stated goal of most institutions that adopt these policies.”

The report points to concerns that have been raised about the motives of institutions that adopt test-optional policies.

“Test-optional policies result in more students applying and a smaller percentage of students being accepted, which makes the college look more selective,” said Weeks. “They also can result in a student body with deceptively high ACT scores, as higher-scoring students may send their scores but lower-scoring students may not. Because these factors can benefit the recruitment efforts of the college, it is appropriate to carefully research the motivations driving an institution to adopt test-optional policies.”

The report also confirms the value that ACT scores add to the admission process, based on both ACT’s own research and external studies. The data show that ACT scores add useful information to student readiness for college above and beyond high school grades. They also indicate that ACT scores are predictive not only of first-year success but also of long-term college outcomes such as retention, cumulative GPA and graduation.

“Our view is that more information leads to more informed decisions,” said Weeks. “Schools that are making test scores optional are taking away a valuable piece of information that can help gauge whether or not students are ready to succeed on their campuses. ACT scores are the only admission factor that provides objective, independent information about readiness, as high school grades are completely unstandardized. We strongly recommend a holistic approach to admission decisions, one that uses as much information as possible—including test scores.”

The report can be accessed here, More Information, More Informed Decisions: Why Test-Optional Policies Do Not Benefit Institutions or Students. A research brief that summarizes the findings of the report can be accessed here.