By Kelly Ochs-Rossinger.

When colleges and universities began to make the SAT an optional part of the admissions process, the hope was that it would expand access to the nation’s most selective institutions to groups that had historically been shut out. The reality is – at least at selective liberal arts colleges – the decision by a growing number of colleges to make the SAT optional does not appear to be the great equalizer that many hoped it would be.

That may come as sobering news to those who celebrated the fact that the number of colleges that have gone test-optional recently surpassed 1,000. Despite that milestone, research that colleagues and I conducted shows that instead of expanding economic and racial diversity at American colleges, test-optional policies have actually served to make selective colleges even more selective, at least on paper. But we found no increase in diversity at test-optional colleges.

For our research, my colleagues Andrew Belasco and Jim Hearn did a before-and-after comparison of applications, enrollment and SAT scores among low-income and underrepresented minority students at 180 liberal arts colleges. Of those 180 colleges, 32 had adopted a test-optional policy.

We found no changes in low-income and underrepresented student enrollment after the colleges went test-optional. Instead, we found an unintended consequence of these efforts: Test-optional policies led to an increase in the number of applications overall. That necessarily forced the colleges to become more selective. That’s because more applications typically mean more rejections. More rejections make it look like the colleges are being more selective. That appearance of selectivity enables a college to claim a higher spot in college rankings that view selectivity as a good thing. This all creates a perverse incentive for colleges to go test-optional that has nothing to do with expanding access for students from low-income families.

We also found a 25-point increase in the reported SAT scores of enrolled students. This increase may be driven by higher-scoring students being more likely to submit scores to bolster their applications. Meanwhile, lower-scoring students keep their scores to themselves. This results in higher average scores being reported to the federal government and magazines that publish college rankings. Thus, it appears as though by increasing competition for a limited number of seats on campus and increasing the SAT scores used to generate college rankings, test-optional policies may actually threaten the very access goals they were designed to achieve.

This is not what proponents of the test-optional movement had in mind when test-optional movement started with Bowdoin College in 1970 and Bates College in the 1980s.

The original idea of the test-optional movement was to interrupt existing inequalities in higher education in the United States. Low-income and minority students are disproportionately underrepresented at selective college campuses. At highly selective colleges, more students on average come from the top 1 percent in terms of family income than from the bottom 60 percent, recent research shows.

Standardized tests in college admissions (continue to the original article)

Kevin OrganisciakCollege Admissions NarrativeBy Kelly Ochs-Rossinger. When colleges and universities began to make the SAT an optional part of the admissions process, the hope was that it would expand access to the nation’s most selective institutions to groups that had historically been shut out. The reality is – at least at selective liberal...Business Guidance for Tutors, Test Prep Instructors, and Admissions Counselors