By Tyler Blackmon

Valley Voices staff writer

In 2009, the SAT was at an all-time high, according to the College Board, with more than 1.55 million students taking the standardized college entrance exam. Despite this trend, however, many colleges are placing less emphasis on standardized testing.

Stephen Jackson, a college counselor at Baylor School, helped explain the move away from standardized testing, noting that tests such as the SAT and the ACT do not provide a full picture of a student's potential.

"Too many times," said Jackson, "students feel like a test score defines them as a student; this couldn't be further from the truth." In fact, he said, "many colleges and universities have moved to what is known as test optional, which means students can be evaluated for admission without submitting official test scores."

In 2009, the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., moved toward this new strategy of evaluating applicants.

According to Sewanee's official website: "After extensive study over several years, the university concluded that standardized tests are not thoroughly indicative of college success, and that other means of evaluating student promise have proven valid. Test-optional admission is a way of broadening the applicant pool across a range of backgrounds."

Instead, colleges that have pursued the test-optional route have used a more holistic approach to applicants. "Other indicators," Jackson said, "include grade point average, high school curriculum, activities, the personal essay and letters of recommendation."

Alyssa Jackson, a junior at Dade County High School, said she feels cheated by the tests.

"I do not feel as though they are an accurate test of your knowledge because of time restraints," she said. "If you gave me an extra hour on each section, I would do 100 times better."

National organizations have surfaced in recent years to persuade colleges that standardized testing can be detrimental to the application process. A Boston-based organization, Fair Test, periodically publishes a list of test-optional colleges in the hope that other colleges will come on board with the policy.

But the test-optional trend has not been free of criticism. In a 2009 opinion column in U.S. News and World Report, Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, defended the use of the SAT in the admissions process.

"The SAT offers a standardized, level playing field in the admissions process," he wrote, "where grade inflation has made it difficult to weigh the real value of the GPA of a student from one school against that of a student from another."

According to Fair Test, the number of test-optional colleges now stands at 892, and the list is growing.

Tyler Blackmon is a student at Baylor School.