Diego Barcena wouldn’t have bothered applying to Trinity College if he had been required to submit his SAT or ACT scores.
A native of Oakland, Calif., the Trinity freshman said he grew up in a household where Spanish was spoken.
“My testing is pretty bad; like, I’m not a good test taker,” Barcena said. “But my test scores were decent up until English because that’s my struggle. I’ve always struggled in English.”
But Barcena had strong grades, was a mentor at his school, overcame health issues to become a boxer, and wrote about the discrimination his family faced as Mexican immigrants.
He was pleased when his guidance counselor told him that Trinity did not require test scores, a growing trend, nationally and in Connecticut — and, as it turned out, he was just the kind of student that Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Angel Perez hoped would apply when the school made the submission of standardized test scores optional in 2015.
Perez, who has developed a national reputation in his advocacy for test-optional policies and a more holistic approach to admissions, said studies have shown that college success is more tied to a high grade point average, a rigorous curriculum and personal characteristics such as grit, resilience and motivation than it is to test scores.
“I sort of see myself as a test optional gospel person,” Perez said. “If we’re going to open the doors wider, than we need to open the applicant [process] wider to more students.”
This fall, the University of Hartford is the latest school to go test-optional — students are not required to submit SAT or ACT scores — joining the majority of Connecticut’s universities and colleges.
Richard Zeiser, the director of admissions at UHart, said of the decision: “This is not something that’s come out of the blue. It’s a trend that’s moved along in our own state to almost every private university and even some of the state university campuses. It’s been something that’s been considered for a number of years, and it was just decided that this would be the year.”
While the change at Trinity was taken as a way to increase the diversity of the applicant pool, Zeiser said Hart already has strong diversity and took the step mainly because “it seemed like this was the right time.”
If the applicant pool and the diversity go up, Zeiser said that will be a good thing, but it wasn’t the primary motivator.
In Connecticut, almost all private four-year colleges and universities are test-optional. The exceptions include Yale University, the University of New Haven and Albertus Magnus College.
Among the public four-year schools, Western and Eastern Connecticut state universities are test-optional, while UConn and Central and Southern Connecticut state universities are not.
Michele Sandlin, a managing consultant for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said the test-optional movement is part of “the rise in holistic admission” policies.
“For a lot of schools, the test scores are still a good academic measure,” she said, but added, a lot of research and data has shown that the unfairness of the tests for some populations.
Bob Schaeffer, spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, also known as FairTest, a longtime advocate for test-optional policies,said the major advantage is that colleges “end up drawing from a broader, more diverse pool of academically qualified applicants.”
He said it also empowers students to put “their best foot forward.” If they believe that includes test scores, they can submit them; if not, they don’t have to.
He said research has shown that test scores are a weak predictor of college performance, and also that the higher a student’s income, the better his or her test scores.
At Trinity, the effect of going test-optional appears to have been fairly dramatic.
During the first year of the new policy, 27 percent of applicants did not include their test scores. This year, 55 percent of applicants did not.
Perez said he was “pleasantly surprised” at the increase.
In addition, the diversity of the freshman class went from 18 percent two years ago to 24 percent this fall.
And the percentage of students who were the first in their families to attend college also went up from 11 percent two years ago, to 15 percent this fall.
“We think this has benefited our community tremendously,” Perez said. “The feedback we are getting from faculty is that students are much more curious, much more engaged and much more active in the classroom.”
He said it shows that “institutions need to be much more creative about how we admit students and find talent in this country. Because the reality is the talent is there, but we have these very rigid definitions of what it means to be successful in college and I’m trying to turn that model on its head.”
Schaeffer said generally the number of students not submitting test scores when a test optional policy is implemented is 20 to 30 percent during the first year and then 30 to 50 percent in the second year.
Wesleyan University went test-optional in 2014. Since then, the percentage of students of color has gone up from 40 percent in 2014 to 44 percent this year, though it went up and down a bit in the intervening years.
The university’s website says that 77 percent of students chose to submit test scores this year.
Bill Holder, a spokesman for Wesleyan, said in an email: “Going test-optional was the right decision for Wesleyan at the right time. It’s going well and, and as we hoped, has encouraged excellent students we might not normally hear from to apply.”
At Quinnipiac, Joan Isaac Mohr, vice president for admissions and financial aid, said the university went test-optional this year for most of its undergrads, but not for those in nursing and health sciences. Those in health fields have to take major licensing tests to practice, so they need to be good test takers.
She said the decision to go test-optional was made partly because many students forgot to include their test scores, as required, leaving the university with many applications that could not be reviewed until completed. She said about 20 percent of applicants in the permitted programs did not include their test scores.
Still Isaac Mohr said, “We love SAT and ACT scores and hope everyone sends them.”