Yay For College App Test Out Options – But Read The Fine Print

Look at your social media feed today and you may have felt a wee bit of relief that yet another college announced SAT and ACT scores are no longer required for undergraduate admissions. For test-weary students, knowing 800+ colleges offer some type of standardized testing opt-out sounds like good news. But, before you recycle the test prep manuals, be sure to read the fine print.

Beginning August 1, 2015, prospective freshmen interested in applying to George Washington University have the option of skipping the SAT and ACT tests entirely. That is, of course, unless they are homeschoolers – OR – they come from a high school that didn’t issue traditional grades – OR – they’re recruited NCAA Division I athletes – OR – they are applying to a special 7-year accelerated BA/MD program. The Admission’s website explains: “The best indication of whether a student will be successful at GW is their performance in high school – the grades they earn and the rigor of their coursework.”

Excuse me while I scratch my head for a moment. GW will exempt SAT and ACT test scores for a super strong GPA? That new admissions’ policy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, knowing that inflated high school grades have lead to 30% of college freshmen dropping out of school in their first year.

And let’ not forget about cheating. Not long ago, Education Week reported how one-third to one-half of classroom students have unabashedly admitted to cheating. Whether it’s buying a paper that someone else has written for them or looking up answers on their smart phone during a test, traditional classroom students are literally doing whatever it takes to make the grade.

The good news is, other testing opt-out colleges are trying to be more equitable in their admission process.

Brandeis University in Massachusetts, for example, offers freshmen applicants an opt-out testing choice. Choice A (which is not really much of a choice) allows students to substitute a combination of scores from three SAT-Subject Tests; APs; or IB exams instead of traditional SAT or ACT scores. With Choice B (which is a pretty cool choice), applicants can submit a Portfolio that includes “one graded analytical writing sample from 11th or 12th grade”. That is, of course, unless you’re a homeschooler.

Temple University in Phildelphia took an entirely different tack, offering the Temple Option, where prospective students “submit self-reflective, short-answers to a few specially designed, open-ended questions instead of their SAT or ACT scores”. Unless, you guessed it, you’re a homeschooler.

Having conducted my fair share of end-of-year homeschool compliance reviews, I completely understand the need to assess homeschool students by something more than parent-issued grades when you’re applying for post-secondary schools and jobs. Just as you find in any school choice population, a few unsavory types will try to pull a fast one, in terms of proving accountability. All the same, I think these college testing opt-out policies unfairly target homeschoolers and require a separate and unequal set of admissions standards.

I’m not going to point to studies suggesting that homeschoolers out-perform public school peers on standardized tests and, therefore, should be automatically assumed to be qualified to enter any college of their choice. Frankly, I think those studies are flawed by their self-selection bias and make for a weak argument. But, to automatically assume that mommy grades on a homeschooler’s transcript are automatically inferior or suspect is both offensive and naive.

If colleges suspect the validity of grades for some students, then what about online schools? The National Education Policy Center found online K – 12 students being educated at unacceptably low levels. Yet, these students are still passing classes, in part because they can take an exam over and over again until they pass it. Add to that the fact that some online schools don’t require face-to-face interaction to verify which student is actually completing the work. Still, college admissions officials do not seem to feel cyber students need to be held to a different level of testing opt-out accountability – in the same way as homeschoolers.

I applaud the proactive step some colleges are taking to help end the testing frenzy we find ourselves in as a country. Clearly, alternative methods exist in selecting students who can succeed in college and I look forward to seeing future data that tracks the opt-out testers over time.

My hope, however, is that colleges rethink how they view homeschoolers in this process and create a more equitable testing option process.

What do you think of the double standard testing option policies?
Share your thoughts below!



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.