ACT and SAT will be optional for students applying to Chapman, starting in 2021. Illustration by Cienna Roget.

The classroom is silent aside from the scratch of No. 2 pencils as students anxiously scribble in multiple-choice bubbles, and the clock ticks away each minute of the three-hour exam. 

The grueling process of preparing for and taking the SAT or ACT has been a stress-inducing, but necessary step that every high school student underwent to attend college. But that is changing for the Class of 2025.

Beginning with the high school class of 2021, Chapman will no longer require prospective students to submit test scores with their applications.

Although this idea seems unprecedented, the change follows other universities such as New York University, Cornell, American University, and Loyola, with as many as one in four removing the tests from admissions, according to Michael Nietzel president emeritus of Missouri State University.

Chapman based the decision on the results of a two-year study of Chapman students conducted by Presidential Fellow Steven Gjerstad and Vice President of Enrollment Mike Pelly.

The study involved researching Chapman students to evaluate the effectiveness and predictability of test scores on student success at Chapman.

“[The study found that] for Chapman, GPA and other factors were a much better predictor of success,” Pelly said. “When test scores and GPA are given equal weight, the test score diminishes the value of the stronger variable, GPA.”

In addition to the conclusions of the study, a proposal drafted by Chapman’s Eye to Eye Club co-presidents, juniors Ellie Hood and Hayley Ratzan-Wank, also drove the change.

 Hood and Ratzan-Wank led a group of 10 students in the Eye to Eye Club, a mentoring club for students with learning disabilities, to understand the changes they would want to see made at Chapman.

 “There were two objectives that we were trying to achieve from the proposal. One being, we wanted to eliminate the stigma of disability on campus. The second was to hopefully urge Chapman to become a test-optional school,” Ratzan-Wank said.

Hood and Ratzan-Wank presented the proposal to President Daniele C. Struppa, Mike Pelly, and UCLA Director of the Center for Dyslexia Maryanne Wolf in May 2019. The policy change was accepted into Chapman’s agenda for future changes to the university.

Beginning with the high school class of 2021, students will be holistically evaluated for admissions, an assessment that considers multiple aspects of an application to gain a more well-rounded view. GPA and strength of curriculum will carry the most weight, and essays, recommendations, leadership, and service will provide additional insight.

“Having a test-optional school can strengthen Chapman’s community, as students are assessed on how well-rounded they are, rather than a test that does not reflect one’s intelligence or potential for success,” Ratzan-Wank said. “[Holistic review] is more reflective of a student’s work ethic and potential for college readiness and future success.”

President Daniele Struppa hopes that by removing the barrier of the standardized test, Chapman admissions will be more accessible to a wider variety of students.

“The policy to remove the standardized test helps bring in students who otherwise may not have been admitted simply because they don’t perform well on a single test, President Daniele Struppa said. “We believe this provides a better admission standard for students of all backgrounds.”

It is possible that not requiring test scores will lead to an increase in the diversity of Chapman’s future student body.

A study of the 200 most selective test-optional schools by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that “if the schools selected students based on the SAT alone, the student body would be more affluent and less racially or ethnically diverse.”

For example, one year after the University of Chicago converted to a test-optional admissions policy, it saw a 20% increase in first-generation and low-income students.

In addition to an increase in diversity, the new admissions standard may also benefit students who excel creatively rather than academically.

Willow Glen High School junior Dylan Flores hopes to be accepted into the film production major at Chapman and believes that the new test-optional policy is important for a college that emphasizes creative majors.

“I believe more colleges should evaluate [students] more on what they are able to create than how many questions they bubble incorrectly,” Flores said. “It takes off a big load of pressure, and gives me more room to focus on creating.”

Many current and prospective Chapman students also feel that standardized tests are not the best representation of a student.

“I don’t always thrive in a testing environment, but in the classroom, I’m really able to show my best work and perseverance,” Sandpoint High School junior Libby McLaughlin said. “A lot of students get test anxiety, but are incredibly intelligent and capable, but because they don’t thrive in a testing environment, the opposite is portrayed. I think in general, it’s not the best method of seeing how ready a student is for college, as everyone is different, and testing often takes away creative license.”

Despite many of the possible benefits of a test-optional admissions policy, there is a concern some are concerned that this change will impact Chapman’s reputation. However, Pelly believes that this change will become more prevalent due to the current pandemic.

“The decision to go test-optional was not about rankings, it was about the effectiveness of predicting student success,” Pelly said. “Coincidentally- due to COVID-19, it appears most colleges, if not all, in the US, will adopt a test-optional policy for the next two years.”

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