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UW-Madison

UW-Madison requires applicants to submit standardized test scores to gain admission.

About a third of Wisconsin’s private colleges and universities do not require standardized test scores to gain admission to their institutions, many of which dropped the requirement in recent years.

University of Wisconsin System campuses will probably not follow suit. UW System Board of Regents policy requires freshman applicants to submit standardized test scores.

Regent President Drew Petersen said in an interview last week that his “sense right now” is that the System is “committed to test scores.” But he also said he would like feedback from others and a chance to look at what the research says.

A 2018 study examining more than 950,000 applicants to 28 test-optional institutions found high school grades and first-year college GPAs were lower in students who did not submit test scores, but those students graduated at equal or slightly higher rates than those who submitted scores. And all but one of the institutions saw substantial increases in minority, low-income and first-generation students applying.

But skeptics of the practice — which includes the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT — defend standardized tests as a good predictor of college readiness. They also say that relying entirely on high school performance can be problematic with growing grade inflation, where teachers award higher grades than they did in the past or that students deserve.

Critics also argue the practice can inflate a college’s selectivity because more students are likely to apply and the percentage of those accepted will decrease.

Regardless, the move to drop standardized test scores is becoming more mainstream.

More than a thousand colleges and universities across the U.S. are test-optional, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which pushes institutions to adopt test-optional policies.

The practice, first adopted by mostly smaller, liberal arts colleges, is gaining steam at a few public universities, such as the University of New Hampshire and Indiana State University, and at the elite University of Chicago.

Wisconsin policies

Eight of Wisconsin’s 22 private institutions serving undergraduates are test-optional, according to the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Of the eight schools, five scrapped the test requirement within the past five years.

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Marquette University announced earlier this month that ACT or SAT scores are no longer required to gain admissions to the Jesuit institution starting with the 2020 incoming class.

The decision came after about two years of internal discussions about why scores were required and what the university gained from them, said Brian Troyer, dean of undergraduate admissions.

“What we’ve found is basically what every school that’s gone test-optional found: That the scores don’t tell us nearly as much as what a student’s performance in high school does,” he said. “We’ve given an increasing amount of weight to these scores and we probably shouldn’t have.”

Troyer said other institutions that have gone test-optional still receive test scores from an average of about three-fourths of its applicants.

“We’re putting the choice in the hands of the students,” he said.

Carthage College in Kenosha scrapped the requirement in 2016 and a small percentage of students took advantage, according to Ashley Hanson, associate vice president of admissions.

“Some (applicants) felt their test scores didn’t reflect their GPA,” she said. “Standardized tests are simply not a great way to judge a student.”

To earn admission to certain programs, such as nursing, or to be considered for some scholarships, however, the college still requires submission of test scores.

At UW-Madison, admissions staff consider test scores as one part of its admissions process. There is no minimum test score applicants must have to gain admission, according to officials.

UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said the approach is consistent with Big 10 peer institutions and other research universities.

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