Wednesday, August 23, 2006

George Mason University is becoming one of the nation’s first four-year public universities to drop the SAT and other standardized tests from its admissions requirements for certain students.

High school seniors with at least a 3.5 grade-point average (GPA) and who are in the top 20 percent of their class can opt against submitting an SAT or ACT score in their application to George Mason beginning this year, dean of admissions Andrew Flagel said.

After three years of study, George Mason concluded that SAT scores are a poor indicator of collegiate success for high-achieving high school students. Applicants who don’t have at least a 3.5 GPA will be required to submit a test score.

Dozens of private schools have stopped requiring applicants to take the SAT or ACT because of concerns that the test is not an accurate gauge of an applicant’s potential for success.

Mason’s stance is unique among public schools. It is the first public school in Virginia to drop the standardized test requirement for some of its applicants.

Several public universities across the nation, including the University of Texas, will guarantee admission to students who achieve a certain GPA or class rank in high school, negating the requirement to submit an SAT or ACT.

GMU’s policy is different: It is not guaranteeing admission to anyone.

Applicants who do not submit an SAT or ACT score will be evaluated by the admissions committee. Those who do not submit test scores are required to submit two additional letters of recommendation.

Students interested in participating in intercollegiate athletics also must submit test scores, which are used by the NCAA to help determine eligibility.

Mr. Flagel said he is not aware of any other schools that have crafted a policy identical to Mason’s.

The change sends the message to prospective students that the most important item on their transcript is grades and that fretting over the SAT is unnecessary, Mr. Flagel said.

At the same time, it ensures that admissions counselors at GMU won’t place undue emphasis on bad test score for otherwise worthy applicants.

Mr. Flagel acknowledged that even though admissions counselors know intellectually that an SAT score is just one part of an applicant’s profile, “it can be exceptionally hard for the committee to ignore” a low score on a transcript.

The SAT has come under fire in recent years by those who feel it is overemphasized and is biased against minorities.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which opposes use of standardized tests in the admissions process, said that Mason is one of the first public schools to join the trend of private schools dropping the SAT.

Mr. Schaeffer’s organization lists hundreds of schools that do not require the SAT or ACT scores for admission, though a spot check of his list revealed numerous errors and includes many schools that do indeed require applicants to take the SAT or ACT.

Mason, which has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, found that the SAT was a weak predictor for all races when applied to students with high GPAs, and Mr. Flagel said that racial and minority issues had nothing to do with the school’s decision.

Caren Scoropanos, a spokeswoman for the College Board, which administers the SAT test, said that both GPAs and SAT scores can be good predictors of collegiate success, but evaluating both is the best way to gauge an applicant’s prospects.

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