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  • Writer's pictureNick Day

A Closer Look At Recent Standardized Testing Moves

Several weeks ago, the University of Texas-Austin announced that it would once again require SAT/ACT scores, beginning with applicants in the fall of 2024. UT’s decision, which follows on the heels of similar ones by Yale, Dartmouth, and others, is also remarkable because it includes GPA data from the fall 2023 term pooled into two buckets: that for enrolled UT freshmen who submitted standardized testing versus that for those who did not submit scores. The statistics show a significant achievement gap between the two groups. 

  • In UT’s freshmen class of approximately 9200 in the fall of 2023, those who had opted to have their test scores considered as applicants had an average GPA .86 higher (on a 4.0 scale) during their fall semester compared with those who had not. 

UT’s average first-year GPA stood at about a 3.3 out of 4.0 in 2020, the most recent data available. So, using an imperfect calculation, an average freshman in the Fall of 2023 who had not submitted SATs or ACTs was probably earning a GPA below 3.0.  

GPA (especially for a freshman) is of course an imperfect metric. But the UT data gives us very strong evidence that students who enroll in a university without test scores are less successful in the classroom than those who are admitted with test scores. This fact alone should give any reasonable admissions officer or college administrator pause. After all, is it not the fundamental responsibility of a college and its admissions office to accept students who can be academically successful once on campus?  

Dartmouth’s announcement in February, which included a study by Dartmouth Economics and Sociology professors, did not compare the GPA of enrolled test-submitters and non-submitters. It’s conceivable (though probably unlikely) that data from these two cohorts at Dartmouth was not collected. More likely is that Dartmouth collected the data, used it in internal discussions, but chose not to disclose it for either simplicity or fear of what the data might show, namely, a lagging GPA for enrolled students who were accepted without test scores. 

What do these recent decisions from a few highly-selective universities mean for the road ahead? For the next year or two, we are probably stuck with the patchwork of colleges that 1) require, 2) do not require, or 3) are test-blind (i.e. the University of California system). The fact that all high school students are stuck with this cluttered landscape is of little solace to baffled parents and over-worked counselors. 

Over the long-run, however, we expect to see more schools revert to their pre-pandemic SAT/ACT testing requirements. Indeed, all serious research on the matter seems to conclude the same thing: the SAT and ACT, while far from perfect, might be the best we’ve got. 

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