No standardized admissions

December 07, 2006

Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore has become the first school in Maryland's public university system to make tests such as the SAT optional for students with average grades of 3.5 or better on a 4-point scale. Although de-emphasizing standardized tests is justifiable, Salisbury officials are quick - and right - to point out that a number of factors should govern admissions decisions, not just grades or test scores.

Questions have long been raised about how well standardized admissions tests predict first-year college success and whether they are economically and racially biased. An estimated 25 percent of the nation's top 100 liberal arts colleges have already made the SAT and other admissions tests optional.

Officials at Salisbury, which is the fifth largest campus in the University of Maryland system and has the system's second highest graduation and retention rates (after College Park), examined last year's freshman class and found that the rigor and variety of high school courses, as well as grades achieved in those courses, were the best predictors of academic success. With approval from the state Board of Regents, Salisbury will soon start a five-year pilot program that will allow any applicant with at least a 3.5 grade-point average not to submit standardized test scores.

University officials insist, however, that a high GPA is no guarantee of admission. The courses taken must cover a number of subject areas and have a certain level of difficulty, such as advanced placement courses. Extra-curricular activities, leadership qualities and community service are also part of the mix. Officials estimate that the new policy could affect about 200 of next year's anticipated 1,200 freshmen, particularly students who don't perform well on standardized tests or can't afford test preparation courses.

Salisbury has made a different calculation than Towson University, which recently announced that it would admit some students with high SAT scores and lower grade-point averages in an effort to attract more males. It only goes to show why college admissions can't be and shouldn't be an exact science.

An editorial that appeared Tuesday should have stated that Baltimore loses about $10 million a year in uncollected admission and amusement taxes on licensed video poker games.

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