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MIT reinstates SAT and ACT mandate for admissions

It remains to be seen whether the decision, announced on Monday, will slow the momentum of the voluntary testing movement in higher education. But it is sure to be widely noticed due to the school’s reputation as a top destination for students in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The decision goes against the leadership of many top universities, including a certain well-known neighbor of MIT in Cambridge, Mass. – Harvard University announced in December that it would be elective for the next four years.

MIT’s decision does not affect the 1,337 students it has offered admission for the class entering next fall. (Admission rate: 4%). But it will affect those in high school who plan to apply to enter MIT in the fall of 2023.

Stu Schmill, Dean of Admissions at MIT, wrote in a blog post that reviewing admissions test scores as part of a holistic review greatly improves the school’s ability to assess students’ academic potential. potential, because it weighs tens of thousands of applications per year. MIT students, he writes, must complete a rigorous curriculum that requires each to spend two semesters each of calculus and computational-based physics.

“Our research cannot explain Why these tests are so predictive of academic preparation at MIT, but we believe this is likely related to the centrality of math — and math exams — to our education,” Schmill wrote.

But many universities value math skills and take a different approach. “The test scores — we don’t need them,” said Andrew Palumbo, vice president of enrollment management at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, also in Massachusetts. Last year, WPI moved to a policy that prohibits any consideration of the SAT or ACT. Previously it was optional.

Palumbo said the data showed “no statistically significant difference” in the performance of students who submitted scores compared to those who did not. He said he also doubted the value of timed admissions tests for a university that fosters creativity and problem solving. “It’s so contrary to how we think students should learn and educators should teach,” he said.

MIT has now admitted two classes with no test score requirement. Freshmen who entered last fall were the first. Schmill said in a phone interview Monday that the decision to reinstate the requirement did not reflect any lack of confidence in the Class of 2025’s performance or the Class of 2026’s potential.

“We had as much confidence as we could have in every student we admitted,” Schmill said. “I expect students to do as well as they have ever done.”

Even without the test requirement, Schmill said, most of the 33,796 applicants this year submitted ACT or SAT scores. Some were admitted without a score, he said. Grades in advanced classes in math, science, and other areas are a crucial indicator of potential.

MIT data shows that for those admitted to the class of 2025 who reported school grades, 75% scored at least 780 out of 800 perfect in the math section of the SAT or 35 out of 36 perfect in math in the SAT. ACT. .

This is rarefied territory. But Schmill said MIT doesn’t strive for perfection. He cited some successful applicants who first withheld scores and then voluntarily reported them to MIT after gaining admission. “There were a number of students who had test scores that were perfectly good,” Schmill said. “They weren’t perfect, but they were pretty good.”

Schmill said he is concerned that privileged students often receive better guidance than disadvantaged students on whether to submit scores to elective schools.

MIT is not alone. Georgetown University requires applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. The same goes for some public universities, such as Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, and the University of Florida.

The debate over the value of admissions tests has raged for many years. It is widely accepted that there is a strong correlation between scores and family income. The richer a community, the higher its average scores.

Critics say that the SAT and ACT provide little useful information, and that the grades students get and the rigor of the courses they choose are far more important. Proponents of the tests say they provide a useful check against grade inflation and help schools find otherwise hidden academic talent.

Across the country, the voluntary testing movement has accelerated during the pandemic. All of Ivy League will be optional for at least the next year. Even when grades are optional, many applicants will submit them and schools will review them.

Some colleges and universities go even further and omit the scores from the process entirely, a method known as “no test” or “blind”. This is the case for the University of California and California State University systems. The private California Institute of Technology, often seen as a peer of MIT, failed to consider test scores from the last admissions cycle and the current cycle and intends to do the same for the coming year. .

Indeed, a giant national experiment is underway to examine various approaches to the role of test scores in selective admissions. Schmill said the pandemic has created too many educational upheavals to conduct a proper experiment. Crucial variables — including access to high-quality education and rigorous coursework — have been muddled, he said.

“People will look at the MIT experience and compare and contrast it with the experience of other top schools that are either elective or blinded,” said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest: the national center for fair and open testing. , a review group for the SAT and ACT.

Schaeffer said he doubts many schools will follow MIT’s lead. “Right now it’s an outlier,” he said.