Students To Take SAT Despite Texas Decision To Minimize Its Need

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Colleges and universities across the country have been keeping a close eye on enrollment trends at the University of Texas system, where many admissions officials hope that minimized SAT requirements will help yield a more diverse student body.

But for most college-bound Texans sharpening their No. 2 pencils to take the SAT this Saturday, the UT admissions policy doesn't make a difference one way or the other, observers say.

After the 1996 U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit decision in Texas v. Hopwood limited the university's ability to use affirmative action in accepting students, Texas legislators passed a bill that guarantees admission to any UT campus in the state to Texas students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their classes--no SAT scores required. ("Supreme Court Refuses To Weigh Race-Based College Admissions," July 10, 1996.)

But even while fewer Texas students necessarily have to endure an entrance exam, most still will, predicted Gretchen Rigol, the executive director of the admissions-testing program at the College Board, the New York City-based organization that sponsors the SAT I: Reasoning Test, the most widely used college-entrance test.

"Most students don't know if they're going to end up in the top 10 percent" until later in their senior year, Ms. Rigol said. "Whether or not [the sat] plays into a formulaic eligibility system is irrelevant."

At the 1,450-student Highland Park High School in Dallas, the new University of Texas policy hasn't curbed the number of students who signed up for the SAT, said guidance counselor Sammie Walker. Because most seniors apply to more than one college, including those out of state, they still need to take the exam, she said.

Influencing Choice

A university's use of standardized-test scores in admissions might not factor into students' decisions to take the exam, but it could influence where they choose to apply, said Christopher Hooker-Haring, the dean of admissions at Muhlenberg College, a small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pa.

After analyzing successful "optional SAT" policies at institutions such as Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, Muhlenberg officials decided in 1996 to make the SATs optional for a minimum of five years.

In shaping their new policy, officials at Muhlenberg, a predominantly white institution, asked themselves, "'What can we do to make ourselves more hospitable to students who do poorly on the SAT?'" Mr. Hooker-Haring said. "Ethnic diversity was in the front of our minds."

The new policy weighs high school transcripts twice as heavily for applicants who do not submit SAT scores. It also requires that they mail a graded paper along with their applications so that admissions counselors can gauge generally how rigorously their high schools assign grades.

When last year's results were tallied, college officials were pleased to find themselves sifting through a record number of applications from nonwhite students, a 43 percent increase since 1993.

"The College Board sometimes implies that colleges who do this are lowering their standards," Mr. Hooker-Haring said. "When we moved to make the SATs optional, we felt we were doing it from a position of strength."

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