Making the Admissions Process Better

Over the past few years, JCHS has been engaged in discussions with parents, students, and admissions professionals at peer schools about how to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety around the high school admissions process.

The high school search can be a confusing and time-consuming undertaking. From fairs and open houses, to interviews and applications, eighth grade students can easily find themselves overwhelmed by the number of requirements and the excessive amount of time involved in applying for high school. Instead of an exciting journey that invites a student to think about how they’ll grow in the next four years, the high school search can become a dizzying and emotional gauntlet to run. Two years ago, JCHS launched a pilot program that offered the option of either submitting standardized test scores OR a portfolio of work in lieu of SSAT or ISEE scores. This test-optional pilot was aimed at lowering the stress of test-taking and preparation, and decreasing the financial burden and complication of the application process. Since then, JCHS continues to be TEST-FREE for ALL applicants. This means that JCHS will not accept SSAT, ISEE, or any other standardized test scores as part of the admissions process. We wish for our applicants to be certain that students who do NOT submit standardized testing scores will not be at any competitive disadvantage in the admissions process. The portfolio is now an optional component. 

The characteristics we are deeply interested in, such as intellectual curiosity, motivation, leadership, creativity, and a social conscience, cannot be measured by a standardized test. 

An Equitable and Holistic Approach

There are ongoing concerns about economic, racial, and gender bias, and the financial and mental burden the testing process can present. Our admissions process is centered around developing a holistic understanding of who each individual is as a person and as a learner. While a standardized test result can sometimes offer insights into an applicant’s file, we feel strongly that this is not a good enough reason to ask students to take on this burden simply to add one small data point that will not be weighed heavily in the final analysis. 

At the heart of the JCHS admissions process is one essential idea: we want to get to know who you are as a unique individual and a whole person. We are pleased to allow families the option to submit the work of which each student is proudest. In 2018, when the University of Chicago became the first top ten research university to drop the SAT and ACT requirement, Dean of Admission James Nondorf noted, “We want students to understand the application does not define you — you define the application.” JCHS continues to agree.

Our school is proud to be a leader in this important decision. We look forward to getting to know you better throughout this Admissions season. If you have any questions about the test-free policy, please contact Director of Admissions Leslie Ticktin.

Admissions Portfolio FAQ

All applicants have the option to submit a portfolio of work. You may upload to Ravenna at least two (and no more than three) of the following:

  • An example of graded quantitative (math) work. This sample should demonstrate your ability to use numbers to work through a problem and also show your teacher’s notes and/or grade on it. Examples might include: a graded test or quiz, a graded math problem set, a mathematics project that demonstrates calculations as well as critical thinking.
  • An example of writing work completed in an English or a Humanities class from fall semester 8th grade. We prefer work that shows your teacher’s notes and/or grade on it.
  • An example of visual or performing art that shows your ability to think critically and demonstrates a multi-step response to a thematic prompt. Please include a brief (3-4 sentence) explanation of the project, as well as your process. Examples might include: images of visual art you’ve created, a video of a piece of choreography you’ve made, a recording of a song or musical composition you’ve written.
  • A portfolio of work from a multidisciplinary project. Please include a statement of the central idea or question you investigated, as well as documentation of the project that you produced yourself (e.g. writings, blogs, drawings, videos, photographs, or links to an online presentation such as Prezi or Google Slides)
  • An example of multimedia or programming work that shows your ability to think creatively in response to a specific problem or idea. Please include a brief (3-4 sentences) explanation of the project as well as your part in the process. Examples might include a coding project for a First Lego League robot, a video game you’ve designed, or an animation project. The project may have included other collaborators, but please be clear in your statement about what your contribution was to the project. We are most interested in seeing work that shows us your thinking process, so if you wish to submit the portfolio, please consider submitting work that demonstrates your creativity and your ability to think critically.

No. Our “test-free” policy means that JCHS will not accept standardized test scores as part of our admissions process. If scores are sent to us, they will not be included in the applicant’s file and will not be reviewed by our Admissions committee readers.

We wish for our applicants to be certain that students who do NOT submit standardized testing scores will not be at any competitive disadvantage in the admissions process. 

Simply put, we are most interested in understanding who an applicant is as an individual and a whole person. We feel that characteristics that we are deeply interested in, such as intellectual curiosity, motivation, leadership, creativity, and a social conscience, cannot be measured by a standardized test.

Already at the college level, more than 1,000 colleges and universities, including selective institutions such as George Washington University, University of Rochester, and Wesleyan University, have adopted “test-free” or “test-optional” application policies. In the wake of the college admissions controversy in 2018, as well as recent news about a major test security breach and errors in the SAT test itself, the University of California and California State University leaders have once again announced studies into whether the SAT and ACT are valid predictors of student success. The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted ongoing concerns about equity of access when it comes to standardized tests, spurring many schools and colleges to reconsider their policies on testing requirements. And on September 1, 2020, a California state court issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the UC’s use of the SAT and ACT: “This admissions season, the prestigious University of California system won’t be able to consider standardized tests when it evaluates applicants. It also can’t use the tests to screen students for scholarships…The ruling, by a judge in Alameda County, notes that the pandemic has restricted the ability of students to take the exams.”

In this, or any year, though, we are acutely aware that test anxiety is a significant stressor in an already highly stressful process. In addition, the cost of testing and test preparation can have an outsized impact for some families—particularly those who must schedule a more expensive option for a Sunday test date, since most group SSAT and ISEE tests are administered on Shabbat/Saturdays. While JCHS has in past offered both fee waivers and a Sunday test date at our school, we recognize that standardized testing can present a meaningful barrier to access for some students. Most importantly, it is clear that standardized test results have limited value as predictors of overall student success in the future. If this is becoming better understood at the college level, we feel that it is certainly applicable at the high school level. 

The JCHS Admissions team strives to be in good partnership with students and parents throughout this process to create a positive and productive experience as they look for the high school that will best fit their family’s needs. We hope that a test-free policy will encourage this.

Further Reading on Test-Free and Test-Optional Policies

A Court Orders The University Of California Not To Use The SAT Or ACT During The Pandemic (Forbes, September 1, 2020)

Harvard, Yale and 5 other Ivy League schools will not require SATs or ACTs for admissions next year (CNBC, June 17, 2020)

With high school disrupted, a growing number of schools — including Harvard and Cornell — are waiving standardized testing requirements for 2021 applicants. (NY Times, May 21, 2020)

UC makes landmark decision to drop ACT and SAT requirement for admission (Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2020)

When it comes to college admissions, standardized tests penalize ambitious low-income students. (Paul Tough op-ed, NY Times, May 20, 2020)

Amid coronavirus, CSU to suspend SAT and ACT for admissions (Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2020)

University of Rochester drops standardized testing requirement (Democrat & Chronicle, June 19, 2019)

As more universities drop SAT and ACT requirements, Cal State chancellor asks for a closer look (Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2018)

The Case for Eliminating the SAT and ACT at the University of California (Saul Geiser, UC Berkeley, December 2017)

Chicago Drops SAT/ACT Requirement. Will Others Follow? (Inside Higher Ed, June 19, 2018)

New study finds that ending SAT and ACT requirements results in more applications and more diversity — without any decline in graduation rates (Inside Higher Ed, April 18, 2018)

Ethical College Admissions: Test Recycling (Inside Higher Ed, September 10, 2018)How A Compass Student Raised 50,000 SAT Scores (Compass Education Group blog, June 6, 2019)