HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – This month, high school students throughout our region will be putting on their cap and gown and getting their diploma. But for some students, the future they had in mind seems out of reach because of their scores on the SAT and ACT.
In April, West Virginia University became the first higher education institution in the state to officially adopt a permanent test-optional admission policy. That means students can be admitted without those scores. But some students said the term “test optional” can be misleading depending on what major they plan to pursue.
Lauren Rasberry is set to graduate from St. Albans High School in a few weeks. She has a 4.3 grade point average. Thanks to a collaborative program with Kanawha County Schools and West Virginia State University she already has almost 45 college credit hours under her belt.
“I get to sit in the classroom, make better study habits, take tests as if you would in actual college. I am enrolled as a student at West Virginia State University so it has really helped prepare me for the college life, like what I will need to do to keep up with my studies and work in college. But, it has also kept me in the high school experience still and getting all of those credits out of the way,” Rasberry said.
One of her final assignments before graduation was to deliver a persuasive argument to her public speaking class. She decided to make the argument that there’s too much importance placed on standardized tests when it comes to college admission.
For her that topic is personal. She’s known she wanted to work in medicine since she was seven years old and helping to care for her brother.
“At first it was a doctor, I wanted to go all the way. Then it was a surgeon. Then I realized that was about 16 more years of school and decided that nursing was probably the best option for me because I like the more hands-on experience,” Rasberry said.
She doesn’t do well on standardized tests. She got a 17 on her ACT. That score is keeping her out of the programs she needs to be in to earn a nursing degree.
“I applied to Marshall Nursing Program thinking that everything was ok. I was accepted into Marhsall as a Nursing major and then had to apply to the actual program itself, only to realize that they needed a minimum ACT score of 21 to even be looked at, a 24 to be automatically accepted,” Rasberry said.
She tried other schools and had similar results.
“I get to the point where it is all supposed to work out and be a happy ending, and then it is just a wall, and I can’t get over this wall. It just blocks my path of being able to continue towards what I want to do in life. But yet I’m stuck because of these test scores,” Rasberry said.
Nationally, the idea of ditching ACT and SAT scores as a requirement for college admission is gaining momentum.
“It is hard to overcome what has traditionally been done. I think that the SAT and the ACT have been a part of our lives for a long time. FairTest has been pounding against it,” said Harry Feder, Executive Director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing also known as FairTest.
Feder said over 80% of institutions granting bachelor’s degrees will not require students seeking admission for Fall 2023 to submit an ACT or SAT score.
“I mean, ‘what are they really measuring?’ is the question. What are they valid for? And the answer is not a hell of a lot other than as a perceived meritocratic filter,” Feder said.
During the pandemic, waiving the test requirement was a necessity in many cases. West Virginia University recently announced that they are making the change permanent.
“Students are looking for ways to have more control over their college applications,” said George Zimmerman, Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management at West Virginia University.
He said there are other, better ways to assess a student’s readiness for college including transcripts, essays and their grade point average.
“It is a one-day snapshot. Students can have test anxiety; they may not be familiar with the format. It can be discouraging if you have to submit something that you believe is not the best representation of your academic self,” Zimmerman said. “What we’ve found, and what has been found nationally as well, is that the high school GPA is the best predictor of student success when they go on to college.”
But even with the test optional policy for admission in general, many schools, including WVU, still require ACT or SAT scores for certain programs like Health Sciences.
“My question was, what is the point in going test optional when you are still going to require an ACT or SAT score for all of these majors?” Lauren Rasberry said.
Even with the system seemingly working against her, Rasberry wasn’t ready to give up on her dream. She applied to St. Mary’s School of Nursing through a partnership with Marshall. That program asks for test scores but only considers them as part of the overall application.
“I’ll still live at Marshall on campus, but I will just go to their education center off campus,” Rasberry said. “I’ll graduate as a Marshall University student, but I’ll be listed under St. Mary’s School of Nursing. So, I will go to their center take all of their classes. It is only a two-year associates. But I can go and get my BSN for another year after online.”
It wasn’t the path she grew up dreaming about and planning for but she’s still on the way to where she wants to be. As she starts thinking about what she’ll need for her dorm room and visualizes her first day at Marshall, Rasberry is continuing to fight for change for the students who will follow in her footsteps.
“Getting this out there into the world and really trying to figure out why this is such a problem, I think will really help a lot of students,” she said.
We reached out to Marshall University’s School of Nursing about the test score requirements. They told us in an emailed statement that the standardized test requirements in place ensure that accepted students “can handle the rigor of a program like nursing.”
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