LINCOLN PARK — DePaul University took a calculated gamble in early 2011 when it became the largest private school in the country to drop the standardized tests requirement for admission.
The first-year results are in for the class enrolled under that policy, and DePaul's administration said there is little difference in academic success between those who submitted standardized test results when applying and those who didn't.
Of the 2,593 freshmen in the school's fall 2012 class, about 5 percent were admitted without standardized test scores, and nearly all statistics from their first school year match those of test takers, officials said.
"To anybody that's been doing college admissions for a long time, they aren't surprising at all," said Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul's associate vice president for enrollment management. "My guess is that they are probably very surprising to people who are outside higher education."
Not all good students are good test takers, and not all good test takers are good students, Boeckenstedt said.
The results from the first class back that up, he said.
By the end of their first year, the grade point average for "testers" was .07 of a grade point higher (statistically insignificant) than those who didn't submit test scores. And the freshman-to-sophomore retention was nearly identical at 84 percent for nontest students and 85 percent for standardized test submitters.
The university was more selective about the high school GPA for students who didn't submit tests.
The test-optional freshman average GPA from high school was 3.71, while the freshmen who took the test had an average GPA of 3.54.
"Usually, it's someone who believed they’ve done well in high school, taken every vigorous challenge they can take and don’t think their scores are good enough," Boeckenstedt said of freshmen who opt out of submitting their standardized test scores.
DePaul University based its decision to go test-optional on statistical research, as well as the idea that students from disadvantaged demographic groups traditionally scored lower on standardized tests.
The school is part of a growing list of more than 100 universities and colleges that have joined the test-optional movement, and is considered to be a major addition to the group, according to experts.
"DePaul in its particular niche, it's a very important leader," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest.org, a national not-for-profit advocating against the use of standardized tests.
That niche is as a large private university with high academic success.
"There are a number of other large urban institutions that are looking very closely at the DePaul experience and researching how well it would work for them," Schaeffer said.
While Boeckenstedt and DePaul University administrators realize they are a long way from the full results of the four-year pilot program, they find the initial results comforting.
The results are also helpful for admissions staffers who, along with Boeckenstedt, had to defend the decision against such critics as former Sun-Times columnist Esther Cepeda who, in a piece headlined "DePaul Dumbs Down by Dropping Exams," bashed the idea in 2011.
"It really kicked off a storm of responses that we had to respond to," Boeckenstedt said.
That meant spending a spring tour explaining and defending the decision to DePaul's own faculty, high school counselors, alumni groups and even speaking to the DePaul president's Cabinet.
"We don't know if we were right yet, but we know the students had a good first year, and we are by and large happy with the program," Boeckenstedt said. "No one is saying we won the argument yet."