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Carleton not to pursue test optional status

<verwhelming majority of Admissions and Financial Aid Committee (AFAC) members voted on Wednesday, Feb. 22 not to make Carleton test optional at this time. If the vote had passed, the faculty and board of trustees would have voted on changing the current test score requirement.

The vote comes after AFAC, an advisory policy group of 10 to 12 students, faculty and staff, spent more than a year researching and discussing test optionality.
Paul Thibodout, AFAC member and dean of admissions and financial aid, cited several reasons for why the committee decided that Carleton will not be test optional, including changes in the structure of the SAT, the creation of a free online test preparation service for the SAT from Khan Academy, the usefulness of standardized tests in evaluating students from different high schools and the ways in which a standardized test can benefit a student who does not have access to AP or IB classes in high school.

However, Thibodout said that AFAC’s decision does not mean that Carleton will never go test optional, but rather has decided not to change its current policies regarding its test requirement.

“In the balance of considering everything, the committee decided to sustain where we are right now with it, leaving it open in future years we could relook at the matter,” Thibodout said.

David Lefkowitz ’85, AFAC Chair of Art and Art History, said that there is a misconception at Carleton regarding the importance of test scores in the application process. He explained that the admissions office considers test scores as only one of a myriad of factors and would not eliminate a student from the application process because of low test scores.

Margot Radding ’18, a student representative on the committee, echoed Lefkowitz by emphasizing that there are many factors that go into an admissions decision. “I felt that Carleton needs to make it more clear that these tests are not a major player in the admissions process, and that admissions truly does look at students as more than a number. I suggested to my fellow committee members that Carleton remove the SAT scores off the incoming student profile as one potential way to make clear that the SAT is not what defines our students,” Radding said.

Lefkowitz also said that, contrary to popular expectation, test-optionality at Carleton would not increase the socio-economic diversity of the student body because Carleton is already maxed-out on the financial aid it provides. Thus, even if Carleton were to attract more low-income students with a test-optional policy, it would not be able to give them financial aid.

“Changing the policy, in some ways, wouldn’t necessarily provide the opportunity to have [an] even more diverse population,” Lekowitz said, “although there was definitely debate within the Committee about those issues.”

Some AFAC members wished the college had changed its policy regarding test optionality.

According to Isaac Haseley ’19, CSA liaison to AFAC and a supporter of test optionality, those opposed to test optionality regularly described a possible scenario in which test scores could prove vital. If one student comes from an urban environment with many AP courses and a breadth of activities and another comes from a rural school with less college preparatory opportunity, standardized testing allows for an effective tool for comparison.

“What concerns me is that this scenario seems so niche. The very idea of having two students competing for a single slot in a college admissions process with a pool of 6,000 students doesn’t seem reasonable,” said Haseley.

Haseley supported putting test optionality to a faculty vote in order to give more people a say in the college’s policy. “We have faculty members just a few doors over who have spent their lives studying educational assessment, and those voices seem too valuable to me to not be a part of this conversation. So I was excited by the prospect of opening the conversation to the faculty body, and I am disappointed that we don’t get to have those voices in the conversation anymore,” Haseley said.

In terms of including more voices in the AFAC decision process, Noah Scott Goldman, ’19 and president of the Carleton Advocates for Educational Opportunities (CAFEO), said that he wished AFAC had invited more student input. As it stands now, AFAC has three student members.

“Part of the reason I’m so hesitant to take a definite opinion on test option applications is because it really depends on what kind of incoming class we want, and I think that’s a question that really does concern the students who are currently here,” Goldman said. “In general, any kind of educational change, you want to involve everyone in the process as much as possible. The least popular changes at Carleton are the ones that happen without any student input.”

Haseley also argued that the trend among other peer institutions supported the move to test optional applications. “You have Bates, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Williams and Middlebury, so it’s a growing number, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable that students will be able to avoid this part of the admissions process all together. They are ditching it in growing and growing numbers, which would make the process better for everyone involved.”

However, Thibodout said that many of Carleton’s peer institutions still require the SAT or ACT.

Haseley expressed concerns with the racial, gender and socio-economic biases of the SAT. “We don’t know if we are making a decision based on intellectual differences because of the cocktail of external activities working to muddle the decision beyond our knowing,” he said.

According to Lefkowitz, the SAT has recently taken steps to eliminate some of this bias, such as changing some questions and partnering with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation services online.
“Ideally, that would defuse some of the degree to which that income disparity becomes a factor, although income is a factor in everything,” Lefkowitz said.

AFAC began looking into test optionality over a year ago, according to Haseley. “The initial discussion was raised by an impromptu, ‘Hey, what if we considered test optionality?’ in fall of last year, and what that looked liked was a bunch of people with great ideas who didn’t really know what they were talking about,” he said. “I went home over winter break, and I put some research together and created a presentation, and we’ve been talking about it ever since.”

Last year, AFAC decided to default to another committee for a decision. Haseley and Thibodout both presented their sides of the debate to the Education Curriculum Committee (ECC). After hearing the presentations, the ECC said that the issue did not fall under its jurisdiction and the policy question returned to AFAC.

As far as the future of test optionality of Carleton, “Given that the discussion lasted for over a year, I imagine that it will take a couple of years passing or some new light being shed on the discussion for it to resurface,” said Haseley.

Lefkowitz agreed, saying there may be more discussion on the issue of test optionality after the results of the recent changes to the SAT have been fully assessed.
“We need to have a baseline of how much those changes are going to impact test scores,” he said.

 Correction: Williams is not actually a test optional school. 

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