(A02.02.04, Untitled brochure about testing) (1980s).
In 1974, Bowdoin resolved to make SAT tests an optional component of the College’s admission process. This brochure defends the Bowdoin’s previous use of SAT scores as part of a much larger, holistic application materials. However, Bowdoin notes a shift in institutional priorities, explaining, “times and values change, and so must emphases.” The document also quotes Brown University and Amherst College’s similar questioning of the merit of standardized testing. It goes on to describe the reasoning behind this decision, which is echoed throughout the material. It reads, “Today, as Bowdoin searches for students of widely diverse backgrounds who best combine intellectual vigor with the rather intangible characteristics of daring and discipline, sensitivity and purpose, the value of standardized test scores comes into question. Bowdoin’s decision to move to test-optional College Boards symbolizes a necessary examination of tradition in academic procedures.” Here, the College specifically frames the test-optional policy as a means of admitting students with “widely diverse backgrounds” who are “highly motivated” and of outstanding character. The brochure’s note of the “[symbolism]” of reevaluating academic “tradition” speaks to Bowdoin’s use of this policy to push for diversity through unprecedented means.
In a section of the brochure entitled, “The Exceptional Minorities,” the College again explicitly links this policy to diversity. It notes, “There is a widespread feeling… that standardized aptitude and achievement tests cannot escape cultural bias and that they thereby tend to work in favor of more advantaged elements of our society, while handicapping others. Bowdoin is eager to continue its tradition of educating a high number of low income and minority students.” Bowdoin acknowledges the “cultural bias” which standardized testing perpetuates and hopes that this change in admission protocol might serve as a kind of equalizer for underrepresented applicants. The College has made a “tradition” of serving students of color and low-income students, and thus adapted its admission policies to reflect this mission.
The document goes on to describe the ways in which SAT scores are inadequate predictors of students’ successes at Bowdoin. It states that 31% of Magna and Summa Cum Laude recipients in 1968 and 1969 had “both SAT’s above their class medians, while 24% had entered the College with both SAT’s below their class medians.” Professors, as well, comment that over half of the students who they feel the College could “do without” had high SAT scores. Clearly, Bowdoin felt that standardized testing was not a necessary component of application materials.
The brochure ends by quoting a Bowdoin professor awarded an honorary degree who encouraged the College to “avoid the pseudo-sophisticated who are just too hoity-toity to be open-minded or learn anything.” Bowdoin should rather ask the question of “What might this student, with luck and wisdom on the part of Bowdoin, contribute to the College? And also, what might Bowdoin, with all its assets and liabilities, contribute to this lad’s total education?” Bowdoin, the professor believes, should be an environment which fosters the talents and intellects of students of all kinds and with varying educational backgrounds. With these guiding principles in mind, the College set out to redefine the values and goals of the admission process.
(A02.02.04, “Bowdoin Chronicle: A report to secondary schools from the admissions director-Fall 1979”) (1979).
Initially, a fair amount of students took advantage of this policy, with roughly 50% of students choosing to opt out of submitting standardized testing. This brochure notes that these numbers lessened substantially nearing 1983, with “25-30% of applicants [withholding] the test scores.”
The document describes this policy as a move to garner a more diverse pool of applicants, noting, “Bowdoin’s stand has encouraged students who might not have aimed for admission to a selective college. Students have come to realize that Bowdoin will judge them on their potential and individual worth in the admissions process, rather than focusing unduly on SAT tests alone.” In this statement, the College proclaims that it will take a more holistic approach to the application process and consider a range of factors, including a students’ promise. This shift in admission policy marked a tangible step in increasing racial diversity at Bowdoin.