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Maryland today | $1.4 million Gates Foundation award to study…

A $1.4 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will support a study led by the University of Maryland to assess the impact of a national decision to make the SAT and ACT tests optional for college admissions. university, or eliminate their use altogether.

Associate Professor of Education Julie J. Park and her colleagues will examine whether higher education institutions’ rapid moves to change their admissions processes in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic have improved access to universities or improved access to universities. equity for different student populations.

More than 1,800 accredited colleges and universities, including UMD, were using optional testing policies in admissions for fall 2020, according to the nonprofit organization FairTest. The College Board reported that 1.5 million students in the Class of 2021 took the SAT, up from 2.2 million a year earlier. The organization attributed the steep decline to COVID-related school and testing center closures.

The broad withdrawal from testing came at a time when standardized tests were coming under increasing scrutiny, with critics accusing this traditional gateway to college of encroaching more on people from underrepresented racial or socioeconomic backgrounds, or disabled.

“This study is very timely and has key implications for society and inequality,” Park said. “Voluntary testing policies are becoming more common; however, more research and data are needed to inform decision making. There also needs to be more research into how inequality affects other parts of college application.

Park is the study’s principal investigator and will collaborate with faculty members from Colorado State University, Penn State University and Southern Methodist University. Together, they will analyze enrollment pattern data from approximately 150 four-year institutions included in the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, as well as surveys of admissions professionals on implementing optional testing policies and interviewing college admissions officials.

Finally, they will use natural language processing artificial intelligence techniques to analyze a dataset of millions of college applications submitted in recent years to understand possible patterns of inequality related to extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation from counselors. . In doing so, they will shed light on how biases and inequalities might affect non-standardized components of college applications.

“We are interested in learning how and why admissions assessment and decision-making policies and practices are changing,” said OiYan Poon, visiting faculty scholar at UMD and affiliate associate professor at Colorado State University. “Simply put, our study will help shed light on how race and class inequalities are produced in admissions practices. We hope what we find will help inform and encourage transformative change.”

At the end of the two-year study, the team hopes to provide a set of recommendations for designing college admissions to advance equity, as well as provide greater transparency for students and families about changes to the university admissions process.

In addition to Park and Poon, the research team includes Kelly Rosinger, assistant professor of education and public policy and research associate at Penn State University, Dominique Baker, assistant professor of educational policy at Southern Methodist University, and Brian Heseung Kim, a visiting faculty specialist at the University of Maryland and data scientist at Common Application.