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Put Down Your Pencils: Many IL Schools Join Test-Optional Trend


A high score on the SAT or ACT is no longer required for admission to more than a dozen four-year colleges and universities in Illinois. As of last week, that includes Northern Illinois University, which will now accept a high school GPA of 3.0 for admission.


Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Western Illinois University, and many private colleges had already adopted similar policies. They’re all part of a growing movement.

The first four-year college in Illinois to stop using ACT or SAT scores to make admissions decisions was Knox College in Galesburg. It made that move back in 2005. Lake Forest, Augustana College, and DePaul University soon followed. 


Bob Schaeffer, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, says the practice dates back to 1969, but has picked up steam especially in the past five years. Research has shown standardized tests present unfair barriers for historically underrepresented populations, and are a “weak predictor, at best, of outcomes that matter,” like graduation, Schaeffer says.


““The positive results include more applicants, better qualified applicants in terms of academic preparation, grades and rigor of courses, and more diverse applicants of all sorts,” he says. “You know, you as an admissions leader go to conferences, you hear that institutions you respect or compete with are test-optional and have had positive results, and you say why not here?”


The University of Chicago dropped its test requirement in 2018. Other Illinois schools that have chosen not to test include Columbia College, Illinois College, McKendree University, Monmouth College, and St. Augustine College.  


Schaeffer’s non-profit, FairTest.org, maintains a website listing colleges and universities that have made standardized tests optional or unnecessary for admission. His staff has to work to keep it up-to-date, deleting schools that have folded or merged, or have changed their admissions policies. That task is more difficult than it sounds.


“Testing requirements, historically, were opaque,” Schaeffer says. “In the pre-internet era, in many cases they were impossible to discern unless you got a physical copy of the college catalog.”


He says the website gets about 400,000 hits per year. 


After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
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