By Grace Potts
Prospective students now have the choice to submit their standardized test scores when applying to Bellarmine, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Tim Sturgeon.
Bellarmine sent a press release to university community members, major news organizations, educational organizations, local news stations, community-based groups and more than 600 high school counselors and principals to announce the new test-optional policy, Sturgeon said.
“This means that prospective undergraduate students applying for fall 2021 entry will get to decide whether or not to submit their ACT and SAT scores as part of their application,” said the press release sent by Assistant Vice President, Strategic & Integrated Communication Jason Cissell on behalf of Dr. Michael J. Marshall, the vice president for enrollment, marketing and communication,
Sturgeon said: “They have to do it at the time they apply, so they can’t get through the admissions cycle and then say ‘Oh, I don’t want you to look at my test scores.’”
Sturgeon said even if a student previously sent in test scores and then applied with test-optional admission, the scores will be blacked out.
A committee of faculty, student-success advisors and admissions staff made the decision to go test-optional, Sturgeon said.
Dr. Carrie Hawkins, associate professor of physical therapy, was a member of the committee and was involved in the research process. Hawkins said research about becoming a test-optional university began in the spring of 2019.
Admissions criteria will focus more on categories such as high school GPA, recommendations, activities and involvement, awards, community service, employment and special talents.
Students who do not submit test scores could be interviewed during the admissions process. Sturgeon said, “If you don’t submit tests, most likely you’re going to have to have an interview, too, unless you don’t submit tests and say you’re 4.0 and you have all AP courses.”
Hawkins said admissions will utilize the interview to assess applicants for the, “Bellarmine fit.”
Spalding University, Transylvania University, Xavier University and Hanover College all have recently gone test-optional.
Some schools are also going the test-flexible route, meaning they will allow students to submit a test score of their choice, including Colby College, Colorado College, Hamilton College, Middlebury College and New York University.
Bellarmine’s press release said, “Research demonstrates that other test-optional colleges have successfully expanded their applicant pool with no negative impact on graduation outcomes.”
Hawkins said, “An exam only shows how well you’re going to do on an exam.”
Prospective Bellarmine students who were homeschooled or students whose first language is not English will be required to submit test-scores, Sturgeon said.
“You’re going to ask them to come to Bellarmine with a lot of reading, a lot of writing and can they communicate in the class?” he said.
Additionally, students who want to apply for Bellarmine Scholars and Bellarmine Fellows Awards will be required to submit test scores. Athletes will also have to submit test scores for NCAA eligibility, but not for admissions.
Students who apply test-optional and are not admitted will have the same recourse as every other student, Sturgeon said. If they choose to appeal, they can bring something new to table, including choosing to then submit a test score.
“We want to make sure bright students don’t self-select and say ‘Bellarmine has too high of a test score. I don’t have that,’” he said.
According to Bellarmine’s press release, “This change — which will enhance our ability to attract and admit populations that might otherwise believe a Bellarmine education is not within their reach — is also responsive to three priorities in our new Strategic Plan.”
The three strategic plan priorities include, “Strategic Priority 3: Expand and Diversify Our Enrollment and Geographic Reach Strategic Priority 4: Commitment to Equity and Inclusion Strategic Priority 6: Expand our Commitment to Access and Affordability,” according to the press release.
Bellarmine alumna Sarah Carney said, “I love it and I support the direction, but I think tuition is a bigger barrier than testing.”
Hawkins said, going test-optional for admission will help diversify Bellarmine, based on research the committee found.
“Additionally, Bellarmine’s internal research indicates that the standardized scores do not predict students’ retention or success better than other indicators, including high school GPA and curricular rigor,” she said.
“In 2018, 1022 four-year institutions were test optional, with 322 ranked in the top tiers of their sector” Hawkins said.
The ACT will now allow for section retesting. According to the ACT website, “ACT Section Retesting, which gives students the opportunity to retake one or more single-section tests to best show their knowledge, helps students focus their study efforts solely on the areas in which they want to improve their scores.”
Hawkins said section retesting mostly benefits students who can afford to do so, and the ACT likely made the decision as a response to test-optional admissions.
Both Hawkins and Sturgeon said there has been concern and pushback for going test-optional.
Hawkins said there is fear of getting unprepared students, but prospective students are still being looked at for their academic rigor and high school GPA using a rubric.
“Just because we did things one way for so long, doesn’t mean we have to do it that way forever,” she said.
Sturgeon said, “It wasn’t something that we said, ‘Let’s do it because we think we’ll get more apps [applications].’”
Bellarmine will be keeping a watchful eye on this process, he said.
“Ultimately, it’s not something we’re just going to do and walk away from,” he said. “We’ll see how they do. So, ‘Is there a difference between those who do and don’t submit tests?’”