How the pandemic led universities to rethink standardized testing
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Tomorrow is a big deal for many high school seniors in the area, because it is the application deadline for the university of California and Cal state colleges. But like so much else in our lives, applying to college today looks much different than it did before the Corona virus pandemic to cold now. And in the near future test free and test optional admission policies for undergrad students have been implemented in many universities, UC San Diego, San Diego state, and the university of San Diego among them here to talk more about the state of standardized testing in the admissions process today is Steven Paltz assistant vice president for enrollment at the university of San Diego. Welcome
Speaker 2: (00:42)
Stephen. Thank you. Nice to be here.
Speaker 1: (00:45)
So, as we mentioned, the university of California's and California state's application deadline is tomorrow. USDS is coming up here in mid December. What is the university of San Diego's current policy when it comes to standardized testing
Speaker 2: (00:59)
USD last year implemented a policy where we were not going to look at test scores at all, a policy typically called test free in, in the, uh, in the admissions world. And we've decided to, um, continue that process for this upcoming class, the group that will join us in the fall of 2022. And
Speaker 1: (01:16)
When was that change made? Well,
Speaker 2: (01:18)
We've, we've been looking at the role of standardized tests for, for some time now. And in fact, back in March of 2020, just prior to when, uh, the, the pandemic shut things down USD through and after a long faculty committee and research decided that we would join the growing movement of becoming test optional, which would mean we would give the choice of four students if they want it to include their scores or not shortly after that, though, as the pandemic took hold. And we realized the incredible unavailability of testing really globally, not just here in the United States, but test centers were closed and students who simply couldn't take the test. We made the decision that we would not look at test scores for the entering class in fall 2021. We didn't want students to either put themselves at risk. Certainly they just couldn't get the exam and then take the test.
Speaker 2: (02:05)
So we decided to go test blind as we went through the process and we admitted this class that just joined us. We actually found to our delight. I think that the test really didn't certainly we knew they didn't really add all that much to the process. That was the result of our, our faculty research in our own research on that, on that. But we also then realized that it actually ended up producing for us. And we enrolled from one of the most talented classes we ever had in terms of their average grade point average. We grew our, our racial and ethnic diversity, which has been one of our goals for, for a long time there. So we made the decision that we would continue that process and continue our admissions, our holistic admissions process without the test for another year, as we continue to gather data about its effectiveness. So our decision really has gone back since 2020, but we have been reviewing it on an ongoing basis as we move forward.
Speaker 1: (02:56)
And you mentioned diversity increased. Uh, talk to me more about that. How did the testing policy change this year's incoming freshmen class at USD?
Speaker 2: (03:05)
It seems in a number of ways for us. First of all, we attracted students from a much wider pool in terms of race and ethnicity. We saw big increases to the degree of about 20% increases in the number of applications we received from our, our Latin X students, as well as our African-American students. Um, in the admissions process, we admitted more students of color than we ever had before. In fact, we admitted more than more than half of our, our students that we admitted were, um, identified as students of color. And we ended up having the most racially and ethnically diverse class that we've ever had close to 44% of our incoming class. Uh, again, we're, um, we're we're minority students, about 23% were Hispanic, about four and a half percent were African-American some of our highest totals that we've ever had. We've known for a long time. There've been huge disparities by race and ethnicity, as well as by family income and other measures on the, on the test score. And I think not having the score allowed more students to feel like this could be a possibility for them. And so we would encourage them to apply. And in our very holistic application process, it seemed certainly to, um, to, to provide more opportunity for students who might've been, uh, closed out of the process earlier. Hmm.
Speaker 1: (04:22)
And you, you touched on it a lot, but talk a little bit more about how the sat and act can create barriers for some students. Um, and college admissions,
Speaker 2: (04:33)
I've been in admissions now for almost 40 years and I've seen it become so really the, almost the driving factor and kind of a centerpiece in a process that is that it was really never intended to be. Um, the test scores now have certainly become a proxy for many, for academic quality. Um, they've been used as cutoffs for scholarships and, and, and, and used in a lot of ways that they were never really intended to be used. We know they place an enormous amount of pressure on, on high school students. There's just, it seems to be such a high stakes game that, you know, there's one test that you take and, and clearly the data shows that, uh, again, it, it, it favors those from families that make more money. Uh, those are, there's a lot of data that, um, I think has come out that, that has really shown the, kind of the, the inequities and the inequalities that, that the test is now becoming this process.
Speaker 2: (05:23)
And so, as a result, I think there's a lot of students who simply don't apply to selective schools because of their score. It's a, it's, it's a way for colleges and universities to really focus on, on measures that that don't necessarily predict success in, in, in college. And again, there's a lot of great data out there and research that has shown that by far, in a way, how a student does day in and day out in the classroom, the courses they select their grade point average are, are far more effective at predicting how a student's going to do than, than test scores are. So I think that by, by not having test scores in the, in the process, it has really freed up not only the colleges to look at a wider variety of skills and talents and abilities, but it has also opened up more possibility for students to feel like they have an opportunity to get admitted to schools that they might not ever have applied to before.
Speaker 1: (06:11)
Many universities, USD has not made a final determination as to the future of its testing policy. Explain to us what's being considered.
Speaker 2: (06:19)
We want to make this decision, um, based, based on data and based on student success. That's ultimately what, what the admissions process is, is to identify students who are going to be successful here and go on and graduate. And so to do that with this class, then now started in September, we're going to look in and analyze how, how well they did this first semester looking at their, their grade point average in our, our first year core curriculum. We're going to look to see, um, how that compares to students who were admitted previously. We're going to look to see how the students who were awarded merit scholarships, how they are fairing in this process. We're going to gather a lot of those data points, and we hope that in the start of the new year, probably by 20, uh, January or February, uh, as we get ready to start to recruit the next year's class will be in a position to make them a much longer term decision about what our testing policy is, but grounded in data grounded in student success. And, um, and again, grounded in best practice that will help us achieve our goals as a university as well.
Speaker 1: (07:19)
Hmm. And what are you hearing from prospective students about the change?
Speaker 2: (07:23)
I think it's been, I think it's been really positive, certainly from, from USDS perspective, not only from students, but also from the high school counseling community as well. One of the things that, that, that has kind of pushed us a little bit more in the direction of being test blind, as opposed to test optional is one of the unintended consequences. I think of the test optional as many, many schools went down that road. Again, given the, given this, the scarcity of availability of testing is it's sort of created, even though it was intended to maybe make the process easier. It has, in some cases created even more anxiety, uh, for, for, for students in the sense that now they're not sure if they should submit or not. Is it an advantage? Uh, I know they say it's optional, but maybe it's really to my advantage to submit the scores.
Speaker 2: (08:06)
And again, I think that that just sort of helps perpetuate some of the disadvantage of the disparities that we've, that we've seen in this process. So as we move forward, we're really focusing more on just not requiring the test at all, taking out that, that consideration and, and not having a student try to decide which is going to be the better option. But I think by and large students have really found this to be a very, uh, very liberating, um, part of the process it's really freed up the, the pressure that, that just, you know, has really driven, um, driven students and parents, and certainly high school counselors, I think, has really added to all the incredible stress that they are, that they're under. And I think it's been really well received.
Speaker 1: (08:46)
And when will USD make a final decision on its testing policy?
Speaker 2: (08:52)
Yeah, we, we hope to gather all those data points that I mentioned, um, probably in the start of the new year. And we want to do it in time for that next round of the next group of students who are going to be looking at school. So are we hope to be able to make a more longer term decision about our testing policy? Probably in the February to March timeframe of 2022,
Speaker 1: (09:11)
Working with Steven Paltz assistant vice president for enrollment at university of San Diego. Stephen, thank you so much for joining
Speaker 2: (09:17)
Us. Thank you for having me.
Speaker 3: (09:20)
Many colleges and universities across the country, including the largest ones in San Diego, have suspended the use of standardized tests in admissions decisions for undergraduate students, at least for the foreseeable future.
As high school students finish their college applications for Tuesday's deadline for the University of California and California State University schools, one part of their application that is not needed this year is their standardized test score. Both the UC and Cal State systems have suspended the use of the ACT and SAT examinations both for the 2021-22 and the 2022-23 academic classes.
Other local universities, such as the University of San Diego, have also suspended testing requirements. Stephen Pultz, assistant vice president for enrollment at the University of San Diego, joined Midday Edition on Monday to talk about how the policy change has impacted the university and its students.
Though data on student outcomes is still being analyzed, Pultz said the university saw signs of encouragement when looking at the makeup of this year's incoming class at USD.
"We ended up having the most racially and ethnically diverse class that we've ever had," he said. "So we made the decision that we would continue that process, and continue our holistic admissions process without the test for another year, as we continue to gather data about its effectiveness."
He also said the university hopes to make a long-term decision on its testing policy early next year.