In Washington, Whitman College joins University of Puget Sound and CityU on a list of schools that have de-emphasized standard test scores for admission.

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Students applying to Whitman College can now ditch their SAT or ACT scores if they choose, but high school students in general would be well advised to both take and score well on either exam regardless of where they want to earn a four-year degree.

The standardized SAT and ACT tests are the predominant college entrance exams still used in the application process by the majority of the nation’s four-year institutions of higher learning.

Whitman officials, however, announced last month they will make submission of either of the exam scores optional starting this year.

A news release on the change stated Whitman had assessed the value of standardized test scores in recent years and found high school grade-point averages were a stronger predictor of academic success at the college, and that standardized exams were not predictive of whether a student will graduate.

Some studies indicate performance on the SAT is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible testing bias against certain minority students, the college said.

“By making standardized test scores optional, we hope to broaden our already strong applicant pool and increase access for outstanding students from groups who have been historically underrepresented,” Tony Cabasco, Whitman’s dean of admission and financial aid, said in the release.

Students applying to Whitman will still have the option to submit their scores for consideration in the admission process, but can choose not to if they think the scores do not accurately reflect their academic abilities. Students who choose not to submit test scores will still be given equal consideration for admission and for all forms of financial aid for which they qualify, the college said.

“If a student is particularly proud of their test scores and thinks they are a good representation of their academic preparedness, then they absolutely should include it,” college spokeswoman Gina Ohnstad said in a email to the Union-Bulletin.

The move puts Whitman in a vanguard with 870 other colleges nationwide — about 34 percent of U.S. colleges and universities — that have de-emphasized the SAT and ACT, according to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

But the two staple tests for college-bound high school seniors continue to remain important — even for seniors who plan to attend one of the 870 that have de-emphasized the scores. That’s because many of the 870 still require and use SAT or ACT scores for other reasons.

At Walla Walla University — which made the de-emphasized list — SAT or ACT scores are not used in the application process except for home-schooled students. But university officials do require all applicants submit either SAT or ACT scores, which are then used for course placement and determining majors.

Such is the case for Eastern Washington University, also among the 870. (Among other universities in Washington on the de-emphasized list: University of Puget Sound and CityU.)

EWU Associate Vice President of Enrollment Neil Woolf said either a GPA or standardized scores can be used by applicants and both must be submitted.

He added that if he had his druthers about it, he would rather the student get in with a high GPA. But even if EWU applicants have GPAs of 4.0 — at EWU a cumulative high school GPA of 3.3 assures acceptance — they must still submit their test scores.

“We will look at test scores but we won’t scrutinize them,” Woolf said. “Either your GPA gets you in or a super high SAT or ACT will also get you in.”

Like WWU, EWU also uses the SAT or ACT scores for student placement.

As for Whitman, Ohnstad said the college’s placement program uses a holistic approach that includes high school coursework, application essays, recommendation letters, involvement in school and community activities, work history, leadership positions and a variety of other factors.

There is yet another good reason for high school students to take and get high SAT scores: money.

At EWU, a future freshman can earn up to $3,500 off annual tuition through honors and scholarship programs. But those applicants must have both a minimum GPA of 3.6 and superior SAT scores in reading and math.

Robert Schaeffer of The Center for Fair and Open Testing said his organization opposes using SAT and ACT scores to determine scholarships, adding studies show students of higher-income households do better on the SAT or ACT than those from lower-income households.

“Those test scores are poor predictors of academic readiness,” he said, “ … and the well-to-do kids get the lion’s share because they have the means to get the higher scores.”

Officials at Whitman agree, and they noted that they do not use SAT or ACT scores when determining merit or need-based scholarships.

Walla Walla School District officials added they will continue to urge students to take either the SAT or ACT because they are still required by the majority of the nation’s four-year colleges.

“Often when students take the SAT for the first time they are not sure where they will attend school after high school graduation,” wrote Christy Krutulis, the District’s executive director of teaching and learning. “(W)e’ll continue to encourage students to participate to help ensure they have the pieces they need should the college or university they apply to still require it.”