'Conscientious Objector' to Testing

October 1, 2010

Sylvie Baldwin is trying to apply the idea of being a "conscientious objector" to the world of admissions testing.

With a growing number of colleges ending SAT or ACT requirements, students who don't want to submit test scores have the option these days of seeking only such institutions -- and it's increasingly possible for those seeking liberal arts colleges to do so while having a wide range of prestigious institutions to pick from. But Baldwin doesn't think that goes far enough to challenge the primacy of the testing industry. So the high school student is planning to apply to a range of colleges -- test-optional and those still requiring the ACT or SAT -- but she will refuse to take another standardized test ever again.

She is going public with her plan by, together with Lawrence University, posting a video about her views on YouTube:

In the video, Baldwin -- a high school senior in Seattle -- describes a realization she had when she received a letter from her high school as she was getting ready for the school year. The letter noted that she and her classmates were represented by their grades, and that they were about to be represented instead by their SAT scores. After thinking about the letter, Baldwin says in the video that "I don't want" to be represented by an SAT score. "I'm more than a number."

So she decided, after talking it over with her parents, that she would not take any standardized tests to get into college. She is planning to use the time she would have spent getting ready for the SAT writing proposed legislation for Washington State to require driver's education to include a unit on the environmental impact of driving.

Typically, colleges notify students who are missing some required part of their application that they must submit it to be considered. Baldwin says that when this happens to her, she'll try to start a conversation about why she would be a good student -- and that this should be visible without an SAT score.

Lawrence officials met Baldwin at an information night and made the video of her -- along with themselves -- to promote the idea of test-optional admissions. Lawrence has been test-optional since 2005 and is among the many competitive liberal arts colleges that have seen increased applicant interest and no erosion of rigor since letting students apply without test scores. Lawrence officials posted information about the video Thursday on the e-mail list of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, hoping to prompt discussion of test-optional admissions at the group's annual meeting this week (which in fact features several sessions on testing policy).

Steve Syverson, vice president for enrollment at Lawrence, says in the video that he is concerned by the growth of the test-prep industry and that he is noticing more and more applicants who later reveal that they have high test scores but don't want the university to judge them that way and so don't submit them. The students feel that the scores "don't represent who I am as a person."

Ken Anselment, director of admissions at Lawrence, calls Baldwin "the perfect kind of candidate" to consider without test scores: "great student, great school, great record, doesn't need test scores to tell us she's high quality."

Baldwin says that she has "no fear" of the SAT. "I would do just fine" on the test. But, she says, "I just don't believe in this. And I'm one of those people who say, 'If I don't believe in this, I'm not going to do it.' "

Several attendees at NACAC's annual meeting said that they know of isolated cases in which applicants have been admitted without test scores to colleges that ostensibly require them. But it's unclear if anyone has managed that while taking a public stand. Baldwin says in the video that she realizes some colleges may reject her for refusing to submit scores or even take the test. But she says she is excited about talking to them about her decision, and that she will try to point out that there are many other students who share her views.

Baldwin says she knows her questions may not change colleges' policies right away, but "I hope I make them think about it a little bit."

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