University System of Maryland moves toward removing SAT/ACT requirement

Following nationwide trends, the University System of Maryland is debating removing standardized test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, as an admissions requirement for incoming first-year students.

A work group of provosts and institutional admissions representatives, convened by USM to evaluate the testing requirement, has recommended that the system amend its Policy on Undergraduate Admissions to eliminate the SAT and ACT as a systemwide admissions requirement at all system universities.

The full Board of Regents will have the opportunity to vote on the measure at its meeting on June 17.

As it currently stands, anyone applying to a USM school who graduated high school within three years of their expected enrollment must include an SAT or ACT score in their application. Under the revised policy, though, each individual institution would have the option to decide whether to continue requiring test scores. Broadly, individual universities are allowed to have more rigorous admissions requirements than the system as a whole.

According to minutes from a May 10 meeting of the USM Board of Regents Committee on Education Policy and Student Life, the work group and other USM stakeholders believe that “the flexibility is ideal, as ACT/SAT is often a barrier to admission and GPA is a strong (and often stronger) indicator of student success.” Additionally, the admissions professionals believe that eliminating testing requirements could make USM schools more competitive.

During the pandemic, many colleges — including those in USM — temporarily dropped SAT and ACT requirements, largely due to the test being canceled amid shutdowns and stay-at-home orders (although some colleges and universities had done away the requirements even prior to the pandemic). Now, some colleges are extending their test-optional admissions policies, while others, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are choosing to reinstate the requirement.

Critics of standardized testing requirements argue that they can present unfair obstacles for some applicants, including individuals who don’t speak English as a native language, can’t afford expensive test preparation materials and courses, or otherwise struggle with standardized tests. On the other hand, proponents of these requirements argue that the tests offer institutions an objective metric for evaluating student readiness.

Regent Andrew Smarick, formerly the chair of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and president of the Maryland State Board of Education, spoke in support of testing requirements at the May 10 committee meeting, according to the meeting minutes. He argued that test scores are free of human bias and can benefit students who struggle with other application criteria.

But Joann Boughman, USM’s senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, responded that standardized tests can be biased and that colleges are learning how to take a more holistic approach to admissions, factoring in a range of both objective and subjective criteria.

One university within the system already offers a test-optional policy; Since 2006, Salisbury University has permitted students with a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher to forego submitting standardized test scores. According to Antoinette Coleman, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, the quality of Salisbury’s students has not declined in over a decade since the policy was implemented.

USM Chancellor Jay Perman recommended the amendment be adopted, and the committee ultimately approved the change in a 5-2 vote.

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