ACT- and SAT-free the way to be?

College entrance exams aren’t feared by all.

Last week, Wake Forest University in North Carolina decided to make standardized test scores an optional part of the admissions process. Other schools across the country and in the state have either already joined suit or are considering it.

One such school is Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., which made its switch to a test-optional policy two years ago.

Gustavus accepts test scores from prospective students, but does not require them, Mark Anderson, vice president for admission and student financial assistance, said.

The change in policy, which he said has been well-received, was based on both external and internal research, he said.

The college considered a 20-year research self-study done by Bates College regarding its switch to a test-optional policy, as well as evidence from its own classes.

That evidence found that students’ potential should be projected based more on grades than test scores, he said -something which is widely accepted in the world of higher education.

“I think any admissions officer will tell that the best predictor is (students’) work in the classroom,” he said.

Citing an increase in the number of applications since the policy’s inception, he said the move has given the college a leg up on other schools without a similar policy.

The University hasn’t had any formal talks about moving to such a policy, and feels its current system is the right fit for the school, Wayne Sigler, University director of admissions, said.

The University requires that students submit test scores when applying, but those scores are considered in the context of the student’s overall body of work, he said.

“Here at the University, we have both a healthy respect and a healthy skepticism about test scores,” Sigler said.

That skepticism appears in the University’s admissions process, which became holistic rather than formulaic in 2003, he said.

In admitting students to one of its seven colleges, admissions officials consider primary factors, which consist of grades, class rank and strength of curriculum. Secondary factors such as extracurriculars are also weighed.

The holistic nature of the process means applications are looked at as a whole, which has benefitted the University, Sigler said.

“The holistic process has been very helpful in helping us make better admissions decisions, both for the applicants and for the University,” he said.

The University’s system is a good example of how the ACT should be used, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said. The test should be considered in the admissions process, but should not be the only factor, he said.

Despite the criticism his company receives about the fairness of standardized tests, Colby said the ACT can be an effective tool for schools.

“It gives them a sense for each student’s academic achievements relative to students in other states, in other cities and from other schools,” he said.

The ACT is also an achievement test that measures knowledge, and that means it’s similar to regular exams, unlike the SAT, which is usually classified as a reasoning test, he said.

Alana Klein, spokeswoman for the College Board, which develops the SAT, said there isn’t a trend towards schools going test-optional.

Research shows that the test is a good predictor of students’ success, especially the writing section that was introduced in 2005, Klein said, responding to criticism from anti-test organizations.

Much of that criticism comes from organizations like FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

In addition to the tests’ weak correlation to students’ college successes, Bob Schaeffer, FairTest’s public education director, said standardized tests are biased toward affluent families.

“(Test prep courses) allow parents of kids from well-to-do families to essentially buy their kids test-coaching steroids and artificially boost their scores giving them a further leg up in the admissions process,” he said.

Although most test-optional schools are smaller, private, liberal arts colleges, Schaeffer said he sees the trend eventually breaking into the mainstream, citing the Wake Forest decision as a possible sign of things to come.

“There is less and less resistance in the world of higher education,” he said.