DOMINICAN COLLEGE JOINS A GROWING NATIONAL TREND, BECOMES TEST-OPTIONAL

BY BRIAN EDSALL

Dominican College announced on July 19 that first-time freshmen applicants for the Fall 2018 semester will not be required to submit standardized test scores for admission. In this decision, Dominican College joins a growing national trend and becomes the first test-optional college in Rockland County.

College President, Sister Mary Eileen O’Brien, OP, PhD, stated in a press release that this new policy coincides with the mission of Dominican College, which focuses on maintaining “a student-centered climate” that “serves a diverse community of students.”

O’Brien adds that the best indicator of a student’s success in college is still a student’s overall high school academic record. However, standardized test scores are often not directly related to academic potential. “Studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, and may be biased against certain minority students,” said O’Brien.

“Standardized tests can be a monetary challenge for some families,” added Joseph Ahlstrin, Director of Admissions at Dominican College. “The cost to take the SAT with the essay is $60. Students may take the exam several times in the attempt to improve on their scores. Tutoring services for the SAT and ACT are also expensive. Some students are fortunate enough to belong to a school district that offers prep courses, but if not, that student is immediately put at a disadvantage.”

Ahlstrin continued by stating that test scores provide numbers that can help the Office of Admissions make faster decisions as the tests are universal across towns and states. However, becoming test-optional assesses students on more than an exam. He emphasizes that one score should not outweigh the day-to-day performance of a student in the classroom and his or her overall character.

There was concern that becoming a test-optional institution would result in an academically weaker incoming class as tests such as the SAT and ACT have been ingrained into the admissions process. However, these concerns were quickly alleviated once studies were reviewed, which reinforced the relationship between high school success and academic rigor with one’s future college success. Overall, the majority of faculty and staff at Dominican College are excited about the decision, according to Ahlstrin.

Many colleges and universities across the United States have decided to become test-optional institutions. According to FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 950 institutions have become test-optional. Some of these institutions in New York State include Ithaca College, Siena College, St. John’s University, Bard College, The College of Westchester and Marist College.

“Since we have gone test optional, our classes have become more geographically and ethnically diverse and our retention and graduation rates have increased,” said Kent Rinehart, Dean of Admission at Marist College. “ We are very pleased with our decision to give students the option of submitting standardized test scores as a part of their admission application.”

Rinehart added that while tests such as the SAT and the ACT can reflect the academic capabilities of some students, it will be critical moving forward for these testing agencies to develop exams which can assist colleges in identifying compelling candidates for admission without biases of gender, race, socioeconomic background and more.

While the decision to become test-optional is mostly received positively, there have been reports which indicate that institutional rankings benefit from this decision as well. According to Dan Edmonds of Forbes, selectivity and SAT/ACT scores are both factors which affect an institution’s ranking in the U.S. News & World Report.

Becoming test-optional means students with lower scores will most likely not submit them, thus increasing the average test score for admitted students. Additionally, more students are likely to apply to – and be rejected by – an institution, thus increasing its selectivity. However, these factors only account for about 9.4% of the 2017 U.S. News & World Report rankings. Nonetheless, Edmonds believes the benefit of test-optional admissions for students far outweighs any potential motive of the institution.

William C. Hiss, former Dean of Admissions at Bates College, studied the role of standardized tests in admissions decisions, according to the New York Times. He published a four-year study of 33 private and public test-optional colleges and universities. Of 123,000 students, 30 percent had been admitted without submitting test scores.

He found no significant difference between nonsubmitters and submitters in graduation rates (0.6 percent lower for nonsubmitters) or cumulative G.P.A. (2.83 for nonsubmitters, 2.88 with test scores). Data also showed that nonsubmitters are more likely than submitters to be first-generation-to-college enrollees, underrepresented minorities, women, Pell Grant recipients and students with learning differences.

Test-optional policies differ institution to institution. Dominican College will require that all test-optional applicants will be expected to complete a minimum of 16 units of college-preparatory work (4 units of English, 3 units of mathematics, 2 units of laboratory science, 2 units of social sciences, and 5 additional units in the listed subject areas and/or in a foreign language).

Students who do not complete the 16 units of college-preparatory work, have been homeschooled, have completed a General Education Diploma (GED) and international students will still be required to submit SAT or ACT scores. Additionally, international students whose native language is not English are required to submit the Test of English as a Foreign Language (T.O.E.F.L.) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination scores.