ASU to revise how it scores for admission

Posted: November 7, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Arkansas State University has tweaked its rules for admissions and institutional scholarships, ensuring students greater access to the institution and aligning with other Arkansas schools, its chancellor said.

With the changes, the state's second-largest public campus, with more than 14,000 students, will take the best scores of each subgroup -- English, reading, math and science -- of each student's attempts at the ACT college entrance exam. The practice is known as "superscoring" and will be used for admissions for the fall 2018 school year. Previously, ASU used the composite score of one ACT exam.

"We had been denying access to students based on a strict interpretation of ACT scores that our peers have not been using," ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said in a prepared statement. "We believe this will create greater access to our university."

The method will be applied to admissions as well as institutional scholarships. Otherwise, the university's admissions standards will remain the same: at least a 21 ACT and a 2.75 high school grade-point average for unconditional admission and a minimum 19 ACT and 2.3 high school GPA for conditional admission. Admission into the university's Honor College will not change.

The Princeton Review, which surveyed schools and verified admissions policies on institutions' websites, said more than half of all "selective" colleges and universities are using the superscoring method, said James Murphy, its director of national outreach. Selective institutions are those that only accept roughly two-thirds or fewer of the students who apply, he said, and the numbers of those institutions are going up.

"Competition," he said of why the numbers are going up.

"So, students know, especially competitive students -- the gunners who are really geared up for college -- they know the advantages of superscoring, and some students may choose a test because of superscoring. Or they may choose a school that way."

The method has been commonplace first with the SAT college entrance exam, though at one point, ACT Inc. discouraged schools from using it for that test, Murphy said. Now, ACT leaves the institutions to decide what is best for them, "believing that they are in the best position to understand their unique needs and the context within which the scores are being used," according to its website.

Earlier this year, two researchers from ACT Inc. and another pair from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education penned a paper about superscoring, arguing that it "may be the most valid method for treating multiple scores." Compared with other scoring methods for the tests, the researchers found superscoring was the better predictor of a student's first-year grades in college.

Both Murphy and Tom Green, associate executive director of consulting and strategic enrollment management at the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said they could not think of a school that has reversed course, taking up superscoring and then abandoning it.

The Princeton Review has also told higher education institutions to use whichever practice works best, Murphy said, but to do so consistently. Some schools superscore SAT scores but do not do the same with ACT scores, he said, adding that the inconsistency is unfair to students.

Many Arkansas institutions -- including the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and Hendrix College -- have also taken up the method. Henderson State University and the University of Arkansas at Monticello, an open-admissions school, do not use superscores for enrollment, spokesmen said. HSU looks at all subscores for placement into remedial courses, and UAM looks at superscores to determine remedial placement and scholarship eligibility, they said.

At the University of Central Arkansas, officials use superscoring for admissions but not for scholarships, said Christina Munoz Madsen, associate vice president of communications, public relations and marketing. The university is evaluating the costs and any effects on the scholarship process if officials applied the method to financial awards, she said.

Many that use the method laud it as showing a student's true academic skills rather than a performance on one, timed test.

"Let's trust them at their best," said Murphy, of The Princeton Review.

Sam Nichols, Hendrix's vice president for enrollment and chief information officer, said the school has used superscoring for about 12 years.

"We feel it is better to see the potential that the student has in each section of the test, not just how they scored overall during one test session," he said. "We believe this allows us to more accurately see a reflection of a student's overall academic ability and potential."

UA, which has utilized the method since 1999, said it has allowed more students access to the flagship campus "without any negative impact on retention and graduation rates," said Mark Rushing, assistant vice chancellor of university relations.

At Arkansas State, Damphousse said he had heard complaints from students, potential students and their family members about how the university did not use superscores while others in the state did. He also heard from a parent of a potential student who got an ACT composite score that would admit her to ASU but who wanted a higher score, he said. At the time, ASU was only accepting ACT scores up to October, and officials would administer the next test in December.

What started as conversations of moving back the last ACT scores to be submitted to the university ended in not only moving the date back to December but also the use of superscoring, Damphousse said in an interview.

ASU wants to see how the use of superscores will affect students' perception of the university and experience at the university, he said.

"I think it's generated a lot of excitement among our students," he said. "A lot of people are saying, 'This is a great deal. Finally, Arkansas State is doing this.'"

Typically, students' scores in subgroups don't jump from one extreme to the other, and any increases or decreases from retaking a test are minor, Murphy of The Princeton Review said. Still, a slight bump in a score could make all the difference in earning a scholarship or entering into elite colleges or universities, he said.

Damphousse cautioned that the move was not to shore up enrollment, something the university was already working on.

"While I know it's anecdotal, we had a high school valedictorian last year with a high GPA in our local area unable to enroll," he said in the statement. "With the superscore, they would be here at the university they wanted. Service to our home region is an important part of our mission."

Metro on 11/07/2017