SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The University of Chicago's decision to make the SAT and ACT optional for admission makes it the first top 10 research university in the country to join the growing trend.
The announcement by such an elite university is sending shock waves through the world of higher education, but almost 200 other colleges, including many considered top tier have already done it. One of them is Mills College in Oakland.
Starting two years ago, all women's Mills began allowing students to choose whether or not to submit SAT or ACT test scores when they apply. The policy is known as "test optional" and it is popular. Last year, only 29 percent of Mills entering freshmen provided test scores with their applications. This year, it's down to only 21 percent.
Mills College Provost Chinyere Oparah says when students do not submit test scores, the admissions office focuses more on other parts of the application including grades, recommendations, essays, or other unique material a student chooses to submit.
"We actually have a holistic review, so we are more interested in the story the student is telling. Who are they? What have they achieved? Where are they going? Oparah said.
Sarah Swope is a Mills biology professor who runs a sought after research program for the college's top science students. She used to look at students' SAT or ACT scores when considering applications for the program, but not anymore.
"I personally have been paying attention to student scores for about 10 years. And over that period, I have never seen a relationship between performance on SATs and ACTs and their success either in a research setting or academically," Swope said.
Mills students ABC7 News spoke with were enthusiastic about the idea of choosing whether to submit test scores.
"If you have a good score, then why not just boost your application? But I think (the test optional policy) is a really good opportunity for groups who don't have access to SAT prep classes," said junior Tatyana Soto.
Aine Piedad, also a junior, took the SAT twice and found "what I did in those eight total hours, it really did not show anything of who I am to an admissions office."
Research varies on whether the SAT and ACT actually predict student success, but many experts agree the tests can be a barrier to college. That's a major reason cited by the University of Chicago for the decision to go "test optional."
"The goal really here is to create access to underrepresented students, students who don't typically have an opportunity to attend highly selective institutions " according to Yaneth Bello, Director of Equity and Access at University of Chicago.
Oparah at Mills adds "there continues to be a racial gap in (test) outcomes. We don't know yet whether that is because they are culturally biased or they are simply reflecting the inequalities of race and class in the K through 12 education system. But what we do know is (the SAT and ACT) are not a good way of telling us what is the potential of a student."
But the vast majority of selective colleges still require SAT or ACT tests for admission. That includes all University of California campuses and most competitive programs at California State Universities.
Officials at the University of California would not talk about its testing requirements. However, some college admissions experts say the huge number of highly qualified applicants to UC's would make switching to "test optional" admissions difficult.
Randolf Agruelles is the director of Elite Prep, a test preparation school in San Francisco. He points out that more than 100,000 students applied to UC Berkeley last year. "I just don't see any way to sort through that many applications and make an informed decision by taking away the SAT score or the ACT score. The more people applying, the more difficult it can become to differentiate one applicant from another. There are lots of people with the same grade point average and almost the same extra-curricular activities" Agruelles said.
This summer Bay Area students are packing test preparation classes as usual. But as the list of "test optional" schools grows, Mills student Joy Robinson, who is also a mother, is excited about more choices in the future for her 13-year-old son. "So I don't have to spend the unnecessary amount of money to prep him to take tests. We can talk about his essays and volunteer work and other things that he does" Robinson said.
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing tracks colleges and university testing policies. According the center, over 1,000 accredited four-year colleges now have policies with some sort of testing flexibility. About 175 colleges are fully "test-optional."
Click here for the full list.
Both the SAT and ACT now offer some free test preparation online. SAT's program is a partnership with Khan Academy.
Click here to learn about a free resource from the ACT Academy.
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Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.