Rowan drops test score requirement for many applicants

Rowan drops test score requirement for many applicants

By Jonathan Lai, Inquirer Staff Writer

Rowan University will offer certain applicants this year the option of submitting an additional essay in lieu of SAT or ACT scores, joining a slew of schools that have eliminated or reduced standardized-test requirements for admission.

The South Jersey university tested a "test-optional" program for performing-arts applicants last year. The success of that program has led to wider implementation: Students with 3.5 grade-point averages on a 4.0 high school scale will be eligible.

A broad swath of students must still submit SAT or ACT scores, including applicants to the engineering school, applicants qualifying for the state Educational Opportunity Fund, home-schooled students, international students, and candidates for academic merit scholarships.

"We've actually been looking at this for several years - about five years," said Al Betts, the university's director of admissions. Rowan began to examine the importance of SAT scores vs. high school grades, among other traditional admissions factors.

"We found, like a lot of schools, that the correlation between the [high school and freshman year] GPAs is by far the best predictor of academic success," he said.

Still, Rowan is moving cautiously, first with last year's small-scale test with performing-arts students and this year keeping the bar high for students to qualify to not submit test scores. (Students who wish to submit scores may still do so.)

Rowan estimates that just under half of all applicants will be eligible to omit test scores. Last year, before the latest rollout, the university rejected 900 such students, said university spokesman Joe Cardona.

"They had low SATs but high grades," he said. "So now you take a second look and then say, 'Wait a second, obviously those students, they achieved in their particular programs.' "

Rowan could alter its criteria over time or change its other evaluation methods, based on the results of the program's rollout.

"We want to do it in stages just to make sure we're happy with it," Betts said.

For now, students who qualify will need to answer this additional, 375- to 500-word essay question:

"Describe your long-term life goals and how your strengths and weaknesses as a student may impact achieving those goals."

Rowan's decision makes it the 10th school to announce a test-optional policy this summer, said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test: National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a major critic of the SAT and other standardized tests.

In Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College and Temple University announced in July that they would drop testing requirements. The same month, Montclair State University announced it would be the first public university in New Jersey to do the same.

"Five of the 10 this summer are public. . . . This could be a tipping point in terms of more publics joining the movement," Schaeffer said.

Nationally, 835 schools (counting Rowan) have gone test-optional, Schaeffer said - about a third of all baccalaureate-granting institutions.

Several other colleges and universities in the region have also adopted test-optional policies, including St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Ursinus College in Collegeville, and Dickinson College in Carlisle.

"All of a sudden, Greater Philadelphia has become an epicenter for test-optional," Schaeffer said.

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Date Published: Tuesday, September 9, 2014 - 19:45