College & Workforce Readiness

Hampshire College Drops Use of SAT or ACT Scores in Admissions

By Caralee J. Adams — June 20, 2014 3 min read
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Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., where college-admissions tests have been optional since 1970, has declared itself “test blind.

Beginning with the class of 2015, the 1,400-student liberal arts college in Amherst, Mass., will no longer use ACT or SAT scores in the admissions process at all. Hampshire appears to be the only U.S. college to have such a policy in place. Officials from ACT Inc. and the College Board, as well as Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), said they were aware of no other examples.

Traditionally, about 70 percent of students have submitted their scores, but a review of successful students’ applications showed no link between their ACT or SAT performance and their college career, said Meredith Twombly, the college’s dean of admissions and financial aid, in a phone interview.

There had been talk at the college for nearly 10 years about dropping test scores altogether as a factor in admissions decisions. This year, the results of some research solidified the decision, said Twombly.

‘Nail in the Coffin’

Professors were asked to identify thriving juniors and seniors that were progressing through their programs. Researchers then interviewed them and reviewed their admissions files.

“It was not terribly surprising to find that the SAT or ACT score did not correlate at all in the likelihood that they would be an amazing student,” said Twombly. “It was the final nail in the coffin. We have been skeptical. It is not a reliable predictor for us.”

Students’ trajectory through high school, rigor of coursework, and grade point average were more likely to be linked to patterns of success, she said.

Ed Colby, a spokesperson for ACT Inc., said in an email that his organization respects every college’s prerogative to handle admissions decisions in the way that best suits their institution and students.

“That said, we believe that more information is always better than less information when making important decisions that impact individuals’ lives and futures, and we urge colleges to use ACT scores as one of multiple factors in the admission process, not as the sole criterion,” he said.

Similarly, an email response from Jack Buckley, the senior vice president of research for the College Board, which administers the SAT, said the organization stands by the value of the college-entrance exam and its validity, in combination with high school GPA, in predicting of college success.

Another factor in Hampshire College’s decision was its own practice of embracing alternative assessments. Hampshire College does not award letter grades to students, but rather gives narrative assessments of student progress.

Class Bias?

Twombly also noted concerns about value and class bias linked to standardized testing.

“We were driven by interest in access and equity in college admissions,” she said. “If we can push that conversation further, we are happy to do that.”

Twombly does not know of other colleges planning to adopt a test-blind policy, but expects others eventually will.

More than 800 four-year colleges and universities now make the submission of such test scores optional.

Although representatives from the College Board, ACT Inc., and FairTest could not point to other examples of a college that currently prohibits the use admissions-test scores to factor in decisions on accepting applicants, it’s not the first time it has happened. From 2005 to 2012, Sarah Lawrence College in Younkers, N.Y., did not accept scores on college-entrance exams. Without ACT or SAT scores for its incoming students, the college’s president wrote in 2007 that it risked being misrepresented on U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.