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K Goes Test Optional

After the current 2014-15 admission cycle, Kalamazoo College will no longer require ACT or SAT standardized test scores to be part of a prospective student’s application. The change will affect students applying for enrollment in fall 2016.

The change makes K part of a growing trend in higher education called “test optional” admission. More than 800 colleges and universities in the country admit students without regard to test scores, including a substantial number of highly-ranked national liberal arts colleges. Kalamazoo College would be the first elite liberal arts college in Michigan to join the movement.

“Admission to K always has been—and will continue to be—very selective,” says Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Eric Staab. “Admission is determined by various factors that express a student’s qualities and abilities and likelihood to thrive at K,” he added.

According to Staab, these factors include high school grade point average, academic rigor of the high school curriculum, the application essay, participation in co-curricular activities, and letters of recommendation.

“Students may continue to submit test scores as additional information,” said Staab, “but for students applying to enroll at K in 2016, test scores will no longer impact the admission decision.”

Studies show that standardized test scores have little broad predictive value for undergraduate success. A two-year study by Kalamazoo College supports that finding. The study, completed by faculty and staff members serving on K’s Admission and Financial Aid Committee (AFAC), looked at data from the four classes that matriculated to K from 2009 through 2012 for correlations between academic performance at K and the admission factors, including standardized test scores.

According to Staab, high school GPA was the best and most consistent predictor of academic performance at K across race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic categories. Scores on standardized tests tend to correlate with family income and may say more about an applicant’s economic advantages — or disadvantages — than about academic potential.

“Given that studies have found a correlation between income and test scores, it seems unfair to use test scores in the admission process,” Staab said.

Staab said he and others at the College expect the test-optional change to have no effect on the quality of students who will constitute future incoming classes. The College will conduct follow-up research to measure the performance of the new test-optional approach, as well as its possible effects on first-year GPA, retention and graduation rate, areas of study, and “first destination” data (a.k.a. employment, graduate school, or other) after graduation.

Kalamazoo College Associate Professor of Biology Ann Fraser, who served as the AFAC study’s principal investigator, said “K’s research suggests that test scores were telling us very little regarding a student’s potential for success at K, and that high school GPA and curriculum rigor were predicting better and perhaps more fairly. We believe the change will attract students who may not do well on standardized tests but who tend to think outside the box. And that prospect can be very exciting for the College.”

Her colleagues on the Kalamazoo College faculty agreed. The test optional change was approved by a large majority of the College’s faculty in November 2014. K joins the growing ranks of test-optional colleges, including Bates, Beloit, Bowdoin, Denison, Earlham, Middlebury, and others. A list of test-optional colleges and links to studies and other information on the test-optional topic may be found at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing website.