Gonzaga University has recently made the decision to become a test-optional institution, meaning students are no longer required to submit scores for the SAT and ACT standardized college admission exams. Traditionally, GU has always required the submission of standardized test scores for a student to be eligible for admission.
The decision sees GU join other institutions such as Harvard, Yale and California Institute of Technology, all of whom announced that they would be test-optional earlier this year.
According to Associate Provost for Enrollment Management Julie McCulloh, there were several reasons GU chose to no longer require SAT and ACT scores.
“Standardized tests were not adding much value to predicting first-year collegiate success,” McCulloh said. “There is ongoing concern within high school and higher education professionals regarding standardized testing and equity with regard to access to testing and testing preparation.”
This is a sentiment that has been felt nationwide. In a 2019 edition of the journal Education and Urban Society, doctorate student Shana Sanam Khan of Louisiana State University argues that standardized tests grade a student’s exposure to a quality education than their overall aptitude in learning and problem solving, often putting minority and lower-income students at a disadvantage.
“What we found was that the high school GPA is the best predictor of the first-year success,” McCulloh explains. “While standardized test scores did have a correlation to first-year success, it was not as strong as a high school GPA and at GU, [and] didn’t add much predictive value to first-year success.”
There are, of course, some drawbacks to this plan. Some departments which require a separate application rely heavily on standardized test scores.
“Testing has been relied upon in some of the professional fields including engineering and nursing,” McCulloh said. “There tends to be higher predictive value in Engineering and Nursing with regard to success in first-year.”
The next step for GU is to now begin informing potential Zags of the new policy shift.
“Whenever any office of admission shifts to a test optional policy, there are important steps to take,” said Erin Hayes, director of undergraduate admission. “We must communicate the change to prospective students and their counselors, prepare our application reading system for applications without tests, determine how to evaluate students without tests, and re-train on how we read applications. It’s a change for everyone in the office, and we are excited that this change means greater equity in our admission process.”
Although further spurred on by COVID-19’s impact on testing nationwide, the decision to transition to becoming test optional has been long in the works. According to McCulloh, GU has been planning this move since 2018. McCulloh was the chair of the group studying the tests’ effectiveness.
“My role was to gather a group of people together to study the role of testing in admission at Gonzaga,” McCulloh said. “The group read research and reports about both standardized testing and colleges that used a test optional method. Then, under the guidance of the Director of Institutional Research—Max Kwenda—we looked at Gonzaga’s first-year college performance with relationship to the SAT, ACT and high school GPA.”
The arrival of COVID-19 meant thousands of students nationwide had their tests cancelled while the nation went into lockdown. For students in high school who missed their chance to take either exam and cannot find a way to reschedule, the news that they no longer have to submit their test results may be beneficial.
“The decision to go test-optional came quickly fairly early in the pandemic,” McCulloh said. “The conversation about being test-optional indefinitely was followed up this fall after continued concerns over access to testing.”
Additionally, GU has announced that it will not favor students who took pass/fail courses in high school, as the decision to make those courses pass/fail was not something most students had control over.
“Both the College Board and ACT, Inc., have canceled numerous testing opportunities given the COVID-19 pandemic,” GU's website said. “In response, Gonzaga University will not require an SAT or ACT score for those applying for college admission in 2021. We will continue to review applications holistically.”
Historically, the minimum test scores required for admission were an SAT score of 1150 or an ACT score of 23, depending on which the student preferred to take.
GU takes into account other factors of an applicant’s portfolio besides their test scores, the website said. For example, a student's course rigor and extra-curricular involvement.
“The Office of Admission carefully considers the following items as part of the application to Gonzaga University: curriculum and school, grade point average and grade trends, college essay, activities and honors, [and] character,” the website said.
For those worrying that they will be denied access to special benefits usually only accessible through standardized testing, the website provides a reassuring message to students.
“Students applying without a test have access to everything available to test-takers: admission, automatic merit scholarships, direct admission to nursing and engineering, the Honors Program, and other Gonzaga scholarships,” the website said.