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State lawmakers get update on test-optional college admissions in Oklahoma

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Fall 2021 was the first semester several Oklahoma institutions used a test-optional admissions program, and officials from the state’s two largest universities briefed lawmakers on how it went.

OU officials said almost 36% of their new students applied without submitting a score from the ACT or SAT. At OSU, it was around 20%.

OU Vice Provost for Instruction and Student Success Mark Morvant said when prospective students don't submit a test score, the university primarily looks at their GPAs and academic rigor — things like whether they took advanced courses and four years of math. Student engagement, an essay and letters of recommendation are also considered.

Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) told Morvant she has concerns about test-optional admissions.

"Some of that could be manipulated and not be actually that accurate," Baker said.

"And I think that’s important. That’s why GPA without high school rigor is a dangerous way to go, and so those almost always have to be paired," Morvant said. "And so, we have datasets, we also get assistance on that, and if we see grade inflation in one school, it will impact their rigor score. And, of course, those can balance."

OSU Associate Vice President of Administration and Finance and Director of Institutional Research and Analytics Christie Hawkins told lawmakers it’s too early to know much about how students admitted through test-optional applications are doing at OSU.

"The one metric we have is the average midterm GPA, and I’m pleased to say that our average midterm GPA for our freshmen was actually slightly higher this semester than it was in fall '19 or fall '20," Hawkins said.

Around a dozen institutions are participating in a five-year trial of test-optional admissions approved by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

"So, there are lots of models, and this will all inform what our policy will be going forward. The ultimate goal is to make sure that there are lots of opportunities for more of our students to at least have the chance to go to college and see if they’re willing to work hard enough to do it and meet our workforce demands, because that’s the key issue," said Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Debbie Blanke.

Some lawmakers worry test-optional admissions will mean lower standards. Blanke stressed it is only to get into a university; students still must meet requirements for specific majors and earn their degrees.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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