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Maryland state schools drop SAT scores from admissions, seek more diversity

University of Maryland Baltimore
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The University of Maryland Baltimore campus.

Students eager to attend a state university in Maryland won’t have to submit SAT scores anymore, a move that officials are hoping will encourage more applicants from marginalized groups.

The Board of Regents voted 11-2 to remove standardized test score requirements from the University System of Maryland’s admissions policy in mid-June.

That means all 12 universities controlled by the state have the option to drop standardized test requirements. The amendment was proposed by Joann Boughman, senior vice chancellor for academics and student affairs for the University System of Maryland.

There were about 14,000 freshmen across the University of Maryland System last fall.

Universities nationwide are adopting test-optional admissions rules, like the California State University System did in March. The coronavirus pandemic served as a pilot for such policies.

In 2020, Maryland’s state universities suspended the test score requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic after SAT test sessions were canceled to ensure public health.

“Our admissions offices found that because they use complex sets of variables in their admission process, the SAT/ACT standardized tests scores were not weighting the same way that they used to,” Boughman said.

For example, University of Maryland, College Park uses 25 metrics aside from test scores when considering admission such as grades, letters of recommendations and personal statements.

Black and Latino students often score lower on standardized tests which some researchers argue is a measure of household wealth instead of intelligence, according to the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit think tank. Instead of a blank slate to rank students' likelihood to succeed, lower test scores can perpetuate implicit bias and contribute to systemic racism.

“It's been known for some time that these standardized tests do have some built in biases, those biases tend to create barriers for students who are first generation, low income, English as a second language, or those that might not have had some of the advanced placement scores from their high schools. And we believe that these students have a great deal of potential,” Boughman said.

Student bodies should reflect the population and demographics of the state, she said.

There were 126,704 undergraduate students across the state university system in 2021 about 40% of whom were white and about 38% were underrepresented minorities, according to the college system. About 49% of Maryland residents are white and not Hispanic or Latino while 31% identify as Black, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Two board members were opposed to the measure, Andy Smarick and Louis Pope voted against the proposal.

During the meeting, Smarick raised concerns about potential bias from other admission metrics like internships, GPA and letters of recommendations.

“One of the benefits of a test like the SAT or ACT is that it can help identify false negatives, students who the other metrics say probably aren't ready,” he said.

Smarick added that for some students their test scores will strengthen their application, especially students who might not have the best grades but scored high on the exam.

“Any student who wishes to take one of the standardized tests may do so,” Boughman, the university administrator, said. “And we would encourage students to do that as a matter of fact, then if their score is a good score, we would encourage them to include it, even if they are applying to a campus that has test-optional.”

Freeman Hrabowski III, the outgoing president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, spoke in favor of standardized tests but expressed that students should still be prepared with the same knowledge base.

“From the academic perspective and the future of our students, we have to send the message, ‘we’ve got to learn these skills,’ partially reading skills,” he said.

Yvette Mozie-Ross, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management and Planning at the University of Maryland Baltimore County agreed.

“As we prepare our students to go into graduate and professional programs that are still relying on the standardized tests,” Mozie-Ross said. “It will be imperative that we make sure that we're doing what we can do to properly prepare them for that.”

Mozie-Ross added that the University of Maryland, Baltimore County offers test prep courses for a range of professional entry exams like the GMAT, LSAT and GRE, to help students build standardized test taking skills.

Salisbury University, in Wicomico County, has not required standardized test scores since 2006. School administrators said that in the past decade GPA is a better indicator of success in college.

Salisbury University’s Director of Admissions, Beth Skoglund, said the university’s decision to be test-optional was based in taking a holistic approach to admissions to look at the entire student.

“There's lots of reasons why students don't test well, so Salisbury wanted to give them the opportunity to still come and be successful,” Skoglund said.

She added, “At Salisbury we did a lot of research the first couple of years that we were test-optional to make sure that those students were being successful and they were.”

Since removing the GPA requirement in 2020, Skoglund said she has seen a change in student body demographics. This fall Salisbury University will have its second largest and most diverse incoming class.

Maryland universities will stay test optional until 2026. The University System of Maryland plans to collect data to measure success of students and reevaluate their decision.

Zshekinah Collier is WYPR’s 2022-2023 Report for America Corps Member, where she covers Education.
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