Opinion

McQuade: Optional SAT requirement increases student opportunity

The “Temple Option” will open the university’s doors to a larger variety of students.

Temple is now one of the largest universities in the country to ax the standardized testing requirement for prospective students.

The new policy fully recognizes that while some students perform well on standardized tests, others do not. And both of these types of students’ abilities and strengths are taken into account.

Aptly titled the “Temple Option,” the program will begin next fall with the Class of 2019.

In order to the assuage the fears of doubtful applicants, students can opt out of submitting their SAT or ACT scores and instead answer several short-answer essay questions.

Temple’s recent buoyancy in announcements is nothing short of astounding. Coupled with the “Fly in 4” initiative, which is predicated on the notion of increasing four-year graduation rates and reducing financial stress on a number of students by awarding them $4,000 grants, the Temple Option marks another turning point in the administration’s efforts towards stimulating innovation and making progress.

Incidentally, the announcement arrived in the midst of the university’s academic renaissance, boasting some of the highest SAT scores and lowest admission rates in its history. According to the 2013 Fall Student Profile (FSP), Temple’s average incoming math/verbal score combination was 1129, well above the national average of 1010. Additionally, the 2013 acceptance rate of 63.9 percent declined from 2012, where it stood at 67.2 percent.

The appeal of the Temple Option draws from the fact that it is not an erasure of the current application; instead, it merely replaces the test score submission with another task, as opposed to the extreme policy of making test score submissions completely optional, which Hampton College in Massachusetts chose to do.

Sticking to Russell Conwell’s mission of cultivating an acre of diamonds, the Temple Option keeps in mind a particular demographic: disadvantaged students from the embattled Philadelphia School District.

Major standardized tests like the SAT and ACT have inadvertently capitalized on exacerbating the fears of applicants from low-income or impoverished backgrounds. In many circumstances, these students are unable to afford test prep services which have become almost customary in the field. In addition, these students may not have been taught the formulaic test-taking skills that arguably have little do with applicable academic knowledge.

Opponents of the Temple Option must understand that the decision is not premature, either. Despite the College Board’s recent proposal to revamp the SAT by scaling back the maximum score from 2400 to 1600, the associated changes will not have a significant effect on remedying the socio-economic inequities deeply ingrained in the fabric of the test. Just because yet another change is underway does not mean that the core problem has been solved; in fact, the test has undergone more than a handful of changes in its 88-year history, none of which have properly addressed why certain students fail to perform well.

Karin Mormando, the director of undergraduate admissions, said that the Temple Option is the result of studies from both within and without the university. In the past, Temple has even employed a much more informal version of the Temple Option by admitting students with lower SAT/ACT scores and high GPAs.

“When we look at [students accepted with low SAT/ACT scores and high GPAs], we can see that they’ve done very well here at Temple,” Mormando said.

Just like Fly in 4, the Temple Option is an investment – an investment in students who must decide between working and classes, an investment in students who might be turned away from applying because they feel their scores are inadequate.

Spearheading this movement in the northeast, Mormando said she believes “we’re opening the door for our institution. We’re blazing a little bit of a trail. If you look at our history and our mission, it makes complete sense for us.”

And while the war of words between opponents and supporters of test optional policies rages on, one thing is for sure: The Temple Option benefits students who would otherwise have been left behind – and even the university itself, as it will welcome high-potential students that could have been brushed aside.

Romsin McQuade can be reached at romsin.mcquade@temple.edu

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