Multiple Choice

Only a few colleges -- mindful that wealthy students can afford to take the SAT or ACT many times -- require that all scores be submitted. Penn has just abandoned the policy.

August 8, 2016

In 2008, the College Board started letting those who took the SAT multiple times decide for themselves which scores to report to colleges. Prior to that, people had to submit all the scores, so if a student undertook extensive test coaching and sat for the test multiple times, an admissions office would know that. Under Score Choice, as the 2008 policy is known, the student would decide and could effectively hide having taken the SAT many times. College Board officials said at the time that they hoped to minimize student stress. The change also aligned the College Board's policies with those of ACT, which had long used Score Choice (which students applauded).

Critics of Score Choice said then (and now) that the system favors the wealthy. While low-income students can receive fee waivers on the SAT or the ACT, taking the test a series of times (with coaching in between each administration) is something only some students can afford. If they are ending up with high scores as a result of a strategy not everyone can afford, those critics say, it should be visible to admissions committees.

Similar views have motivated a small number of colleges -- Georgetown University, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania -- to require that all tests be submitted. Private counselors who work with wealthy applicants say these policies tend to influence some applicants who want to go to those institutions to minimize the number of times they take the SAT or ACT.

But that small group just got smaller. Penn will now allow applicants to use Score Choice.

Nancy Griesemer, a private counselor who blogs about admissions issues, was the first to notice the change on Penn's website, which wasn't accompanied by an announcement.

Penn admissions officials were not reachable this weekend. But while Penn's webpage on admissions testing currently says that it permits Score Choice and only "encourages" applicants to submit all scores, an archived version of that page from earlier this year states that "Penn requires applicants to submit their entire testing history; we do not participate in Score Choice."

Griesemer wrote on her blog that something was being lost. "From Penn’s perspective [before the policy shift], Score Choice, or the ability to choose from among scores which to submit, supported wealthier applicants able to afford repeated testing improved by hours of expensive test prep and enabled students to 'hide' bad scores."

She also predicted that Penn would receive more applications as a result of the shift.

Cigus Vanni, who advises students in southeastern Pennsylvania on college admissions, shared a post he made online praising the Penn change.

"I would also like to address the remaining bullies in the college admission world that will continue to insist that applicants provide a full testing history," he wrote. "May I remind you that unlike information on a transcript -- which is owned by a school/district and cannot be partitioned -- a student's standardized test scores belong to that student and her/his family. If I as a student apply to your institution, I can choose which activities I list; I can select the teachers who will write recommendations on my behalf; and I can manage my application in a way that I can enhance my chances of being accepted. But I can't choose my test scores?"

Vanni went on to say that it is hypocritical to demand that applicants convey their full testing record when both applicants and colleges don't necessarily share everything in the admissions process. "Are there pictures in your publications that show Greek life parties at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning? Do you share with me the number of students you actively discouraged from applying to medical school because it would adversely affect the statistics of acceptance at your institution? Is there a database where I can discover how many professors and staff members were cited for intellectual intimidation and/or sexual harassment over the past decade?" he wrote.

"If you tell me it is being 'dishonest' or 'less than honest'; or whatever you'd want to assert by not including my complete test history, then I expect to see those frat/sorority pictures in your next wave of college brochures."


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