Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Sticking to standardized: a look at past, present, future role of testing in UT admissions

Analise Pickerrell

For the past four admissions cycles, UT applicants have weighed whether or not standardized scores would make or break their acceptance onto the Forty Acres, adding extra stress to an already uncertain process. 

But for fall 2025 applicants, that’s set to change.  

The University recently announced it will reinstate standardized test score requirements for the upcoming admissions cycle, citing a correlation between higher first-semester GPAs and higher standardized test scores. 

Our experience during the test-optional period reinforced that standardized testing is a valuable tool for deciding who is admitted and making sure those students are placed in majors that are the best fit,” President Jay Hartzell said in the announcement. 

Due to pandemic-related testing limitations, UT implemented a test-optional admissions policy, which was first used for fall 2021 applicants and has remained in place until now. 

Under the University’s individualized holistic review process, no specific class rank, test score or other qualification by itself ensures admission for applicants, according to the Office of Admissions. This review process was in place before the test-optional admissions period and will continue as standardized test score requirements are reinstated, according to the press release. 

As the University joins a number of other universities, including MIT and Dartmouth, in reinstating standardized test score requirements, its history of test-optional policy calls into question the effectiveness of standardized testing as a college readiness metric.  

Although students chose whether or not to submit their standardized test scores during test-optional admissions, admissions data reveals non-automatically admitted applicants who included their test scores received admission offers at a higher rate than applicants who chose not to.

Admissions data obtained through a public information request revealed a difference in the percentage of non-automatically admitted first-time applicants who submitted test scores compared to those who did not in applications for the 2021-2022, 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 admissions cycles. Under Texas law, all applicants in the top 6% of their high school graduating class were admitted, regardless of whether or not they submitted test scores.  

Among non-automatically admitted applicants, an average of 46.3% of applicants applied with SAT or ACT scores, and 53.7% applied without scores for the past three admissions cycles according to the data. 

When observing the admitted applicant pools for the same three cycles, an average of 58.6% of non-automatically admitted students applied with standardized test scores, and 41.4% applied without scores. 

“Students who are more competitive across their academic record, demonstrate those academic achievements in their application and are also more likely to submit a score,” said University spokesperson Kathleen Harrison in an email response to the data. 

Education professor Stephanie Cawthon studies standardized testing and accessibility along with holding a courtesy appointment in special education. With a perspective shaped by education in relation to disability, her research is dedicated to studying how people of all backgrounds achieve academic success. 

While her personal experience with the standardized testing system is from the graduate student level, Cawthon said she saw flaws in the general test-optional admissions system that compared applicants who have submitted test scores to those who have not.  

“It’s not really fair if one student has scores but another student doesn’t and then trying to compare them, it doesn’t really work,” Cawthon said in an interview conducted prior to the University’s announcement. “It’s like trying to compare apples and oranges.”

In response to the obtained data on testing submissions, Cawthon said the differences in admissions between applicants can’t be directly tied to testing data due to the limited timeframe of the data as well as other unidentifiable predictors. 

Additionally, without an alternative measure to compare prospective students on a standardized scale, Cawthon said standardized testing is still a necessary tool for admissions.

“We don’t have another good, standardized way to compare the students or to know if they would be a good fit with the college’s standards,” Cawthon said. “We don’t have a system base.”

Still, standardized testing does not come without limitations in fairness and accessibility, Cawthon said. 

“(Standardized tests) are not built for everyone, not a one-size-fits-all at all,” she said. “It’s not the same experience for students with disabilities. Even if it’s accommodated, it’s not the same. … Whatever the system is that we built, it’s not going to be flexible in that way.”

Business freshman Natalia Vazquez opted not to submit her SAT score with her fall 2023 admissions application. As an in-state student who was not automatically admitted to the University, she said she felt her test score did not accurately represent her capabilities.

“I always felt that my scores never reflected who I was as a student,” Vazquez said. “I was always getting good grades in high school, I was in a lot of extracurriculars, so I just felt that, overall, that outweighed what a standardized test score represented of me.”  

Access to test preparation materials may also impact who benefits from standardized testing, Cawthon said. 

“When you think about who has the access to the test preparation courses, to a higher quality content of instruction that really helps the students do well, that’s not fair,” Cawthon said. “That’s not a fair resource that’s distributed amongst everybody.”

Patrick Frank, a tutor, instructor and director of writing programs at More Than a Teacher private tutoring, has tutored high school students on standardized tests and college admissions essays for over 10 years. 

When universities like UT first implemented test-optional policies, he said many students and parents felt confused about whether or not to submit their test scores. 

“It was not always obvious just how open admissions offices were to applicants that did not have test scores,” Frank said.

Frank said he advised most students to include their test scores with their applications during the test-optional period.  

“I always encouraged students to submit their test scores if they felt even remotely comfortable doing so,” Frank said. “I thought that it was probably better for a student to have something that shows they put the work into (college preparation) then to leave this big question.”

Frank said he is not surprised by the University’s decision to reinstate standardized test score requirements, especially considering the higher admission rates among students who opted to include their scores

“If a school is looking for good scores, they’re … looking for someone who is willing to do a lot of work, who is willing to learn strategies, … who’s willing to find new ways to solve problems,” Frank said. ”If a good test score suggests that, I could totally understand why a school would want to reinstate that.” 

Considering the data that indicated that an average of 53.7% of non-automatically admitted applicants opted to not submit test scores with their applications, Vasquez said the University should recognize the elements of the application that students prioritize over test scores.

“That’s a huge chunk of applicants, and I feel like it just proves that more students don’t prioritize testing,” Vasquez said. “They prioritize a good essay, good resume, good application and GPA in their high school. I feel like that should prove that the applicants that they received without test scores could make an impact and they don’t need standardized testing.”

In a follow-up response to the University’s decision to reinstate test scores, Cawthon said she hopes to see a more nuanced approach to admissions in the future. 

“I do understand why (the decision) was made, and it seems to be following a trend across the country,” Cawthon said in an email. “I wish we had a more comprehensive admissions process that allowed for efficient and yet nuanced applications from prospective students.”

As admissions moves forward, Frank said that the holistic admissions approach makes him feel more comfortable with test score requirements. 

“Since UT is a holistic admissions school since it is looking at every part of a student’s application, I trust that they’re not thinking about just the SAT,” Frank said. 

By reinstating test score requirements, Vasquez said she thinks the University will make admissions more competitive and miss out on qualified applicants. 

“I feel like it’s gonna weed out some really good applicants that probably didn’t excel on exams, but excelled in other parts of their school and made a difference in the community,” Vasquez said.

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