Tag Archives: International Baccalaureate

Who Benefits from Test-optional and Test-flexible Admissions Policies?

As the role of college entrance exams continues to shift, many students find it difficult to navigate evolving and variable testing requirements. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that do not require students to submit the SAT or ACT.

Over 1000 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake ForestSmith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYUMiddlebury and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

Many students question how to handle test-optional policies, and are unsure of whether or not they should submit their scores. In this blog, we will take a closer look at student choices in applying to test optional colleges and why more and more schools are offering test-optional admissions policies.

Which colleges offer test-optional policies? Are all policies the same?

FairTest.org offers a comprehensive list of the colleges that currently offer test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. While colleges offering these policies include a variety of institutions, it is notable that many are small liberal arts colleges, public universities, and small Catholic colleges. With few exceptions, the most highly selective colleges continue to require standardized testing; besides being a standard indicator of college readiness, test scores can create a benchmark of acceptance for schools that are becoming inundated with ever-increasing applicant pools.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.

Test-optional and test-flexible policies vary widely, and the best way to make sure that you are submitting the correct testing requirements is to research the details on the specific college’s website.

For example, NYU (test-flexible) requires testing but students have a variety of options:

  • ACT (writing test not required)
  • SAT(essay test not required)
  • 3 SAT Subject Test scores
  • 3 AP exam scores
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
  • 3 IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate
  • Nationally accredited exam that shows you completed your secondary education

Many test-optional schools require students who are not submitting test scores to meet additional requirements, including interviews, writing samples, teacher recommendations, or completing a Test-Optional Form. For example, Franklin & Marshall College requires students who choose to opt out of testing to submit two graded writing samples (creative or analytical), preferably from a humanities or social science course. Loyola University Maryland asks applicants who take advantage of their test-optional policy to submit an additional teacher recommendation and/or personal essay. At Virginia Commonwealth University, high school applicants must have at least a 3.3 GPA to bypass testing requirements.

Interestingly, many test-optional schools, including Marist College, require students to submit standardized test scores once they have been accepted and enroll. The schools use these test scores for the purposes of academic advisement and course placement.

Why do schools offer test-optional policies?

Increasing ethnic diversity

Many schools, including Wake Forest, claim that test-optional policies have led to a more diverse student body with no notable difference in academic achievement between students who opted out of testing and those who submitted scores. Wake Forest also states that ethnic diversity increased by 90% since the Fall of 2008 when their test-optional policy went into effect. A 2014 report from two former Bates College admissions officials, William Hiss and Valerie Franks, also found an increase in racial and socio-economic diversity at test-optional schools.

Focusing on holistic admissions

In determining whether an applicant is a good fit, test-optional schools stress the importance of examining the student’s complete academic profile. The College of the Holy Cross states, “We are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning.”

Fairness

Many institutions are disillusioned with current standardized testing, and feel that the test preparation available to the wealthy creates an unfair advantage. For example, Marist College states, “Many studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible bias against certain minority students. Our experience shows that the rigor of a student’s program and overall academic performance can best illustrate commitment, motivation, work ethic, and a willingness to take on challenges.”

Improved US News Rankings

Intentional or not, the schools offering test-optional policies also tend to see improved U.S. News rankings. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia examined data from 32 selective liberal arts colleges, and found that, after going test-optional, these schools received an average increase of 220 applications and their mean SAT scores rose by an average of 26 points.

Selectivity and test scores are important factors in the U.S. News rankings. US News is transparent about the components that comprise its ranking methodology. 7.75% of rankings derive from the SAT critical reading and math portions; and the composite ACT score.

Test-optional policies tend to increase applicant numbers, creating higher selectivity for the schools, and since students who did better on standardized tests report their scores, while students with low scores often do not, the school can report artificially inflated test scores of accepted applicants.

Notably, the only “test-blind” school, Hampshire College, is unranked by US News. Hampshire College does not consider any ACT or SAT scores as part of its admissions policy, and therefore has no scores to report. Sarah Lawrence was once “test-blind” as well, from 2003 to 2012. In 2012, Sarah Lawrence switched to a “test-optional” policy, presumably to rejoin the ranks of US News, among other reasons.

Bottom-line: Should I send my scores?

At the end of the day, you might be deliberating over whether or not to send your scores. Here are some considerations to assist in your decision:

Research the range of standardized test scores for accepted students

According to U.S. News, “If you do some research and find that your results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may want to hold them back.”

Decide if your test scores accurately represent your potential as a student

At the College of the Holy Cross, Director of Admissions Ann McDermott writes, “If you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

Take a hard look at your academic performance and activity list

Jane H. Dane, associate vice president for enrollment management at Old Dominion University in Virginia, notes that applicants who withhold scores are “particularly scrutinized for other evidence of potential for success, like challenging course work and leadership skills. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing without scores.”

Remember that regardless of testing policies, all schools look at more than your scores

Try to remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, and not even the most significant one. As the College Board reminds us, “College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.”

Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences. For more information on standardized testing, or any other aspect of the college admissions process, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help!

What is a High School Profile and What Role Does it Play in College Admissions?

College admissions staff always view your transcript within the context of your high school. Colleges recognize that schools vary greatly. As Northwestern states, “Every secondary school is different in its level of competitiveness and in the range of courses offered. These factors are also considered when admission decisions are rendered.”

Each school’s guidance office develops a 2-4 page “school profile” that describes the community and high school.  While there is no standard format for the high school profile, typical information includes the curriculum, grading system, grade distribution, average test scores, and college acceptances.  The profiles tell colleges how rigorous and competitive the high school is, and this information impacts the way a college will evaluate a students’ grades and course selection.

Your GPA

The high school profile typically explains how your GPA is calculated, which includes what courses factor into the GPA, and whether advanced courses receive a weighting. For example, Schreiber High School in Port Washington, NY gives an extra .5 weighting for Honors courses and 1.0 for AP courses.

Students often wonder how they can possibly be compared with students from other high schools. The answer is that in addition to viewing your high school’s approach to your transcript, colleges typically recalculate an unweighted GPA using a standard formula, so that they can compare students from different schools with different GPA scales.  Usually, colleges will use a 4.0 scale, where A+ and A = 4.0, B+ = 3.7, B- = 3.3, B = 3.0, and so on.

Grade and Test Score Distribution

High school profiles also typically include a grade distribution chart showing the percentage of students at different GPA brackets or the distribution of each grade for each course; as well as average standardized test scores for the SAT and ACT.

When viewed alongside average standardized testing scores, GPA information reflects the degree of grade inflation or deflation, and for private schools may also reflect the selectivity of admissions to attend the school. For example, if most students at a school earn As, but have average standardized test scores compared to national or state figures, colleges would conclude that the school has grade inflation.

Rigor of Curriculum

Colleges also evaluate whether you have challenged yourself in your coursework.  Again, colleges view you within the context of the curriculum offered at your school. The variety of curricula include International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, both, or neither. Each high school profile clearly describes the curriculum available at the school.

For example, if your high school offers a minimum number of AP courses, you will not be expected to have taken the same number of APs as students with access to a large number of AP courses. For example, Great Neck South High School, a public high school, offers 31 AP courses, as compared with Chaminade High School, a private Catholic school, offers none.

Having said that, it is possible to take courses outside your high school to fulfill your intellectual passion and also demonstrate this to colleges. If you have strong interest in a particular academic area in which coursework is not sufficiently offered at your school, you could consider taking courses outside of school – at a local college or online. For example, students interested in pursuing engineering or other STEM fields sometimes opt to take Multivariable Calculus or Computer Science at a local college or through online courses if their high school does not offer these classes.

For guidance on how to reach your academic potential, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

The ABCs of Secondary School Curricula: International Baccalaureate (IB) Program

Colleges evaluate applicants’ academics within the context of the curricula offered at their secondary school. In the United States, many high schools offer an AP (Advanced Placement) curriculum and the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, and abroad many English-speaking countries provide yet another curriculum, the A-levels.

Our series – The ABC’s of Secondary School Curricula – will consist of individual blog posts explaining each of these programs, concluding with a final post comparing and contrasting the three. As Part I of our look at alternative secondary school curricula, let’s begin with the highly respected International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

While the IB curriculum’s holistic approach to education is continuing to gain increasing popularity within the United States, it’s already well-established throughout the world. In order to grasp a better understanding of what this “holistic approach” really means, below is an overview of the IB curriculum and assessment techniques.

IB Programs

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The International Baccalaureate is a non-profit educational foundation that offers four different programs for students aged three to nineteen: IB Primary Years Program, IB Middle Years Program, IB Diploma Program, and IB Career-Related Certificate. 869 high schools in the United States currently offer their students the curriculum and an opportunity to graduate with an IB diploma.

Each program works to cultivate students’ “intellectual, personal, emotional, and social skills to live, learn, and work in a rapidly globalizing world.” For the purpose of this post, we will be focusing on the Diploma Program, which is offered to students ages 16-19. However, the three programs are philosophically aligned, each centered on developing attributes of the IB learner profile. The profile aims to develop learners who are:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

The IB Diploma Program (DP) is a rigorous academic program with final exams that prepares students for success in college and a lifelong love of learning. It has been designed to address the intellectual, social, emotional and physical well-being of students.

The IB Diploma Program Curriculum

The IB curriculum is divided into six groups of content knowledge, similar to areas of concentration. To ensure breadth of knowledge and understanding, IB students must choose one subject from each of the first five groups. In addition, students may choose either an arts subject from the sixth group, or a second subject from the first five groups.

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  • Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature
  • Group 2: Language Acquisition
  • Group 3: Individuals and Societies
  • Group 4: Sciences
  • Group 5: Mathematics
  • Group 6: The Arts

 

One facet that sets IB apart from other honors programs, including Advanced Placement, is that students are required to take courses in the six subjects simultaneously.

Subjects are taken in either higher level (HL) or standard level (SL). At least three (and no more than four) subjects are taken at higher level (240 teaching hours), while the other subjects are taken at standard level (150 teaching hours).

Students are free to choose their sixth subject, which might include an entirely new creative course or a second science, social science, etc. With respect to course planning, it is vital to select the ‘best-fit’ subjects with respect to a student’s academic and career goals.

The IB program cultivates higher-level thinking skills and self-discipline. “IB students are responsible for their own learning, choosing topics and devising their own projects, while teachers act more as supervisors or mentors than sources of facts. IB emphasizes research and encourages students to learn from their peers, with students actively critiquing one another’s work.”

Assessment Approach

Students are assessed through teacher observation (“external assessments”) and testing (“internal assessments”). Forms of testing include: essays, structured problems, short-response questions, data-response questions, text-response questions, case-study questions, and multiple-choice questions.

Teacher observations include oral work in languages, fieldwork in geography, lab work in the sciences, investigations in mathematics, and artistic performances. The internal assessments begin in January of junior year and conclude in February of senior year, while the external exams take place in May of senior year.

A student’s examination performance in individual subjects is scored on a scale of 1–7 points with an additional 3 points available based on performance in the theory of knowledge (TOK) and the extended essay components. Students who display satisfactory levels of performance across all subject areas and achieve a minimum of 24 points (out of a possible 45) are awarded the IB diploma.

IB tests are graded by a third party, outside of school, and exams are the same worldwide, regardless of where a student lives. In addition to testing, students completing the IB Diploma Program must participate in community service and write a research paper.

Although students are encouraged to enroll in the comprehensive IB Diploma Program, some schools, like Locust Valley High School in New York, allow students to elect to take fewer than the six subjects. In these cases, students who fail to satisfy all requirements or elect to take fewer than six subjects are awarded a certificate for exams completed, instead of the full IB Diploma.

Benefits of Participating in an IB Program

  • Students are more prepared for the academic rigors of college.

A study of IB Diploma programs in Chicago found that when compared to a matched comparison group, students in the IB DP are 40 percent more likely to attend four-year colleges and 50 percent more likely to attend more selective colleges. When in college, IB DP students report feeling prepared to succeed and indeed excel in their coursework, often stating explicitly that their experiences in the IB DP taught the specific skills and behaviors demanded of them in college.

  • College admissions officers look favorably on IB Program courses.

According to Marilyn E. McGrath, Harvard’s Director of Admissions, “Success in an IB program correlates well with success at Harvard. We are always pleased to see the credentials of the IB Diploma Program on the transcript. GPA is not nearly as important a factor in university admission as the IB Diploma. If a student has to choose, choose the Diploma over protecting the GPA.”

“We’re looking for students who are engagers—students who are maximizing opportunities in and out of the classroom. What’s very unique about IB is that through its curriculum it allows students to be able to satisfy the requirements of the types of students that we’re looking for,” states Dr. Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions at the University of Texas—Austin.

  • By participating in an IB Program, you might be eligible to earn college credit or place into more advanced courses, depending on your IB exam scores.

Colleges differ in their policies of whether they grant credit for both SL (Standard Level) and HL (Higher Level) exams and what scores are required. Some colleges automatically provide credit for certain scores, whereas others rely on department heads or deans to decide.

Most importantly, colleges differ in how IB credit may be used by students: typical options include the ability to waive out of courses, take upper-level courses, satisfy distribution requirements, and/or graduate early. In this respect, IB credit offers a similar array of options as AP credit. Watch for our next blog in the series, focusing on AP Curriculum.

 

Below is a chart detailing the policies of several selective schools. Check the websites for the most updated information.

 

School IB Program Recognition Policy
Brown University Three HL courses can be assigned six course credits. With departmental approval, an SL course with a superior mark may be counted for one credit.
Columbia University Grants 6 points of credit for an IB HL exam score of 6 or 7, provided the score is in a discipline that Columbia offers as an undergraduate program. However, the maximum number of points a student may receive is 16, and no points are awarded until the first year of study is completed.
Dartmouth College Grants up to six course credits for superior HL scores in fields of study offered by Dartmouth’s Arts and Sciences departments (typically one course credit for each HL exam score of 6 or 7; a second credit may be granted, subject to departmental determinations.) These credits may be used to reduce the number of courses required for graduation, but may not normally be used to satisfy any other degree requirement.
Duke University Placement and credit are available for IB HL exams with scores of 6 and 7.
Georgetown University Credit will be awarded for specified HL subjects with scores of 6 or 7.
Harvard University Students who have earned the IB diploma with a grade of 7 on at least three HL exams may qualify for Advanced Standing.
MIT Only exams taken at the IB HL are recognized.
NYU IB HL exams with grades of 6 or 7 may be considered for credit and/or placement depending on the area of study and/or program requirements. Typically, 8 semester hours of credit (equivalent to two terms or one academic year of a specific subject) will be awarded for each HL.
Northwestern University Results of HL IB exams are evaluated for possible award of academic credit.
Princeton University Uses exam results for advanced placement purposes only. A score of 6 or 7 on the HL exams is normally accorded advanced placement recognition.
You can use advanced placement in three ways; to enter upper-level courses; to fulfill the foreign language requirement; to become eligible for graduation in three or three and one-half years (advanced standing).
Tufts University Recognizes the IB for admissions purposes, advanced placement, and individual course credit for a maximum of eight credits. With eight credits from the IB, students may graduate in six full-time semesters instead of the eight normally required. Typically, individual course credit is offered for HL exams with scores of 5 through 7. No credit is given for SL courses except for scores of 6 and 7 on English and for scores of 5 or higher in foreign languages.
Tulane University Awards credit or advanced placement for IB scores of 5 or greater on HL exams. No credit or placement will be awarded for SL tests.
University of Michigan Awards credit for IB HL exams only for appropriate academic subjects. No credit is given for SL exams.
University of Notre Dame Students must present scores of 6 and 7 HL exams in order to qualify for credit in specified courses.
University of Virginia Students matriculating in the College of Arts and Sciences will be considered for advanced standing and credit for qualifying scores on HL exams.
Williams College Students presenting scores of 6 or 7 on HL exams may be placed in advanced courses and/or may receive course credit toward the major or concentration. Credit is not awarded for SL courses. IB credit may be used as a prerequisite or in partial fulfillment of the major or concentration requirements. IB credits MAY NOT be used to reduce the normal course load of any semester, to make up a deficiency incurred at Williams, to satisfy the Distribution Requirements, or for acceleration, i.e. completion of the degree in fewer than four years.
Yale University Yale awards as many as two acceleration credits (the equivalent of two Yale courses) in certain subjects to students who have received either a 6 or 7 on the HL exams. These credits can be applied if the student wishes to graduate early, and the decision to accelerate is made during sophomore year. No acceleration credits are awarded for SL exams. Students who score a 6 or 7 on HL exams may also use these scores to place into more advanced courses in some disciplines.

 

Deciding which advanced program of courses to pursue can be a daunting process. Collegiate Gateway is happy to help in planning your high school course options to maximize your academic potential and college admissibility. Feel free to contact us!