By Susan Donaldson James
Clara Cox was always good test-taker, and when she applied to college, she scored high on the SAT.
"I grew up in the New York state system, so I’ve done standardized testing since the time I could walk," said Cox, 26, who graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in linguistics and French.
"But I do understand that some people don't test well,” she told NBC News. "And there is a huge fear of the SAT."
Some of her friends, including her own twin sisters, struggled with poor standardized test results; it would limit their college choices.
"We took the same classes and had the same grades," said Cox. "But I’ve seen students with low test scores and high GPAs — and those with SAT scores that were incredible that did not do so well."
Today, she is an admissions counselor at The University of New England in Maine, which still requires either the SAT or ACT, but a growing number of institutions do not.
Nearly 1,000 accredited four-year colleges and universities have test-optional or test-flexible admission policies, according to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing or FairTest.
The Massachusetts-based nonprofit promotes educational evaluations that strive to eliminate "misuse and flaws" of standardized testing at all grade levels. They say that these tests have inherent cultural and racial biases.
"We’re not opposed to the use of testing, only the misuse of testing," said Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest. "A fair test is better than no test. Tests can have a role.”
Leveling the academic playing field
The first standardized test was launched in 1920 by the United States Army and was used to measure IQ. In 1926, a Princeton psychologist adapted the so-called Army Alpha test to use in college admissions.
A decade later, when Harvard University began a nationwide scholarship program to find talented students outside the usual East Coast boarding school pool, it turned to what had evolved into the Scholastic Achievement Test or SAT. In 1946, with the founding of the College Board, it became the universal testing tool.
Bates College in Maine was the first to make the SAT optional in 1991. Its 20-year study of admitted students revealed that those who submitted tests did not show any better academic performance or graduation rates than those who didn’t.
The SAT was meant to help level the academic playing field, but Fair Test’s Schaeffer says that was before admissions officers had detailed information about the rigor of particular high schools to compare students.