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‘Convinced by the data’: Dartmouth College reinstates SAT requirement

Dartmouth College will once again use the SAT to help make its admissions decisions, the Ivy League university recently announced.

“Informed by new research, Dartmouth will reactivate the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission beginning with applicants to the Class of 2029,” the college announced Monday.

The statement added Dartmouth suspended its standardized testing requirement in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.

“At the time, we imagined the resulting ‘test-optional’ policy as a short-term practice rather than an informed commentary on the role of testing in our holistic evaluation process,” according to the statement. “Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth … we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve — not detract from — our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus.”

The statement concluded by assuring the campus community “contextualized testing will be one factor — but never the primary factor — among the many quantitative and qualitative elements of our application. As always, the whole person counts, as do the environmental factors each person navigates.”

In reporting on the change, the New York Times quoted Dartmouth officials who argued several low-income applicants were rejected but might not have been if they supplied their test scores:

Test scores were a better predictor than high school grades — or student essays and teacher recommendations — of how well students would fare at Dartmouth. …

A second finding was more surprising. During the pandemic, Dartmouth switched to a test-optional policy, in which applicants could choose whether to submit their SAT and ACT scores. And this policy was harming lower-income applicants in a specific way.

The researchers were able to analyze the test scores even of students who had not submitted them to Dartmouth. (Colleges can see the scores after the admissions process is finished.) Many lower-income students, it turned out, had made a strategic mistake. They withheld test scores that would have helped them get into Dartmouth. They wrongly believed that their scores were too low, when in truth the admissions office would have judged the scores to be a sign that students had overcome a difficult environment and could thrive at Dartmouth.

“Our goal at Dartmouth is academic excellence in the service of training the broadest swath of future leaders,” President Sian Beilock told the Times. “I’m convinced by the data that this will help us do that.”

Campus officials told The New York Times they are confident they can still enroll a “diverse” student body with the SAT policy intact — even under the recent Supreme Court ruling that banned affirmative action, reporting “Dartmouth can legally admit a diverse class while using test scores as one part of its holistic admissions process.”

MORE: Ahead of affirmative action ruling, 83% of colleges and universities now SAT/ACT optional

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