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Students planning to apply to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul for Fall 2021 can leave their standardized test scores off their application — if they want to.

St. Thomas is the latest school to become part of the “test optional” movement. So far this year, 13 schools across the country have gone test optional and last year, about 50 scrapped standardized testing from their admission requirements.

Students who want to submit test scores still can, but choosing not to include their test scores won’t hurt their chances of becoming a Tommie or of earning merit-based scholarships, St. Thomas officials said Friday.

The private school is the 18th higher education institution in the state to let students choose to include ACT or SAT scores on applications, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing or Fair Test, a nonprofit that advocates for schools going test optional. Nationally, there are over 1,000 schools with test optional admissions policies.

St. Thomas officials say they’ve been mulling the decision for about 18 months, unable to ignore the wave of schools making the change or research that showed standardized tests may not be the best way to judge how successful a student will be on campus.

Al Cotrone, the school’s vice president for enrollment, said if you look at a lot of successful people today, “a lot of them did not have really good standardized test scores.”

Advocates for test optional policies say it creates a more equitable admissions process.

A 2018 study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling found such policies increased the total number of applications and the representation of students of color in both the applicant pool and the freshman class it produced.

Cotrone said they are not targeting any type of student; rather, they just want to make sure they do not miss some students who may not be great test takers. If, as the research shows, it increases the diversity of their student body, he said they “would be thrilled with it, but I wouldn’t say we are doing this with that purpose.”

Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of Fair Test, said test optional policies create an opportunity for over-tested students to be viewed as “more than a test score.”

“You know you will be evaluated holistically in which what you do in school and in life over your high school career means a lot more than filling in bubbles on a Saturday morning,” he said.

Schools have various reasons for going test optional, including seeing it as a way to increase applications. When the University of Minnesota, Crookston dropped testing requirements last year, some on the U’s governing board hoped test optional admissions would bolster enrollment on the rural campus.

Cotrone said they aren’t looking to increase applications or enrollments, rather they want to make sure they are not missing students. Even if applications don’t spike, the change will mean more work for Cotrone’s admissions team — work they are excited to do.

“They see the potential of a richer learning environment,” he said. “It’s a deeper dive on each application … but the team is excited to dive into it and see what it brings for St. Thomas.”

Dylan Anderson (dylan.anderson@startribune.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.