The University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents voted to drop SATs and ACTs as an admission requirement at its 12 universities. But that doesn’t mean that prospective students are necessarily off the hook when it comes to the standardized tests for college admissions.
Instead, the schools that make up the university system can decide on their own policies. They could drop the requirement, create a test-optional policy or decide to require that students take the SATs or ACTs for admission.
The USM Board of Regents voted on the issue Friday after discussing the pros and cons of using the standardized tests as a requirement in the admissions process.
“Each campus would be expected to, in fact, clarify their position on being test-optional or test-required and would clearly articulate in their campus policies and all of their processes, so that the students who are applying to that institution would clearly understand what would be expected of them,” Joann Boughman, the senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for USM, explained to board members.
For years, there has been debate over the value of the SATs as a predictor of success for students in college.
Boughman told board members, there’s another tool that’s proven useful. “We have found over the years that the grade-point average — the GPA in high school or in community college — is one of the best predictors for student success.”
At the same time, Boughman offered a caveat on relying too heavily on the GPA. “There is a concern, and we are watching this carefully, that grade inflation in high school is an issue. So that in fact, we have challenged our admissions officers to be very careful in watching the GPAs.”
Should schools drop the standardized tests as tools for admissions, Boughman suggested there are a number of other things schools could consider.
For example, she said, the University of Maryland at College Park has 26 indicators in its admissions process — with the SAT or ACT being only one of them.
Darryl Pines, the president of the University of Maryland at College Park, told the members that since adopting the test-optional model during the pandemic, the data on its impact is “cloudy,” but that, “We decided to communicate to our future students that we’re extending test optional (to) 2027, so that we can understand the data post-pandemic as to how well students are doing.”
University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski said that while opting out of using the SATs and ACTs may prove useful, students — particularly students of color — should get help in developing the skills needed to do well on standardized tests. Hrabowski continued, “because when you think about medical school, or law school, or the CPA, or the nursing exam, or the teachers exam — all of these are standardized tests.”
While a number of the board members referred to long-standing concerns that the tests themselves prove a barrier to many students due to a built-in cultural bias, there were regents who talked about how the standardized tests can help a student gain admission.
Board member Andy Smarick explained that many students come from circumstances that may keep them from taking part in “high-profile” internships and extracurricular or other activities that can build up a student resume. Those same students who might excel on the standardized test could be shut out if the tests are dropped from consideration.
Smarick said there is data on the issue. “We’re probably talking nationwide hundreds of thousands of students who when they take this test, their application is strengthened.”
Louis Pope, another member of the Board of Regents, also mentioned some concern over the possibility of dropping the tests.
He told board members, “I got into the University of Maryland College Park during a very easy administration policy in the early 1970s, and I thank you.”
He added, “When I was in 9th and 10th grade, my GPA was lousy because I really didn’t get my act together until I was probably a junior or senior,” and at that point did very well. Pope said he worried that by putting more emphasis on GPAs, “It really penalizes the kids who are late bloomers.”
The final vote was 11-2. Two members were absent. Smarick and Pope ended up voting against the measure.