A good track record for optional SAT

Even though Bowdoin College was the first highly selective college to drop the SAT as an admissions requirement, more than 30 years ago, about 75 percent of all applicants today still send their scores along.

That's why Bowdoin can be confident that its selection process works. While the scores that applicants voluntarily submit get only a slight nod from an admissions person, they are collected for analysis. After four years, the school compares the performances of students who submitted scores and those who did not.

"It is a negligible difference in performance - about one-tenth of a point," says Richard Steele, Bowdoin's director of admissions.

Still, he isn't sure the University of California will be followed by other big universities if it drops the SAT as an admissions requirement. The hurdles would be significant, he says.

He was formerly admissions director at Duke University in Durham, N.C., where 15,000 people apply each year - compared with just 4,500 at Bowdoin. Reading and analyzing so many applications in much greater detail - a necessity without the SAT - would require a much-expanded admissions department at any big university. The problem is exacerbated by grade inflation, where the SAT can help sharpen the differences between high school performance across hundreds or even thousands of schools and school districts.

"With grade inflation increasing, we have to do a lot of extra work to be fair to all the candidates - to be sure we're accurately assessing their achievements," Mr. Steele says. "If you have a huge system like California's that's moving away from testing, I know how labor intensive it will be."

Steele adds that he's not an antitest person. "I think the SAT can be helpful if used wisely. But the way Bowdoin has gone just leads to so much greater emphasis on looking at the entire person. It's been worth it to us."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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