Colleges consider dropping SAT and ACT requirements for next year's applicants

An increasing number of universities are dropping the SAT and ACT requirement for fall 2021 admissions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. By Alicia Lee, CNN

(CNN) -- This year's high school juniors may finally do what they've often dreamed: kiss their college prep books goodbye.

An increasing number of universities are dropping the SAT and ACT requirement for fall 2021 admissions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With high schools across the nation shut down or in limited operation, ACT Inc. and the College Board, the companies behind the ACT and SAT, canceled administrations of the exams until June, prompting a record number of colleges and universities to suspend the standardized test requirement or make it optional.

In total, about 51 universities and colleges have dropped the ACT/SAT requirement for at least fall 2021 in recent months, according to a list by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization working to end the misuse of standardized testing.

They include Boston University, which announced it's going test-optional for students applying for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters, and the University of California, which said all nine of the schools in its system would suspend the requirement for students applying for fall 2021.

Some schools are going test-optional for even longer, as is the case with the extremely competitive Tufts University, which announced it would make the tests optional for a three-year period.

Others, including Tulane University, all Oregon public universities, the University of Washington, Scripps College, Northeastern University and Texas Christian University have all made testing optional for fall 2021 or longer.

But 51 schools aren't enough for Student Voice. This student-run nonprofit group is calling for all colleges and universities to adopt test-optional policies for fall 2021 with a campaign called #TestOptionalNOW.

"There are many students across the country who no longer have access to test prep... their school's free test date... whose living situation has been changed and no longer have time to study for standardized tests. Those are the students that this test-optional campaign aims to help," Maodon Tohouri, a junior at Amador Valley High School in California, said in a news conference.

Ed Colby, spokesman for ACT, Inc., told CNN that its scores are still widely being used in admissions and scholarship decisions and that while some schools were making "temporary adjustments to their admission criteria to mitigate Covid-19 impact on applications and enrollment," the organization is reminding both students and colleges alike "that ACT remains committed to benefiting them both."

"The health and safety of students is our first priority and we are collaborating with higher education institutions to provide flexibility to students and to support admissions under these unprecedented circumstances," Jerome White, spokesman for the College Board, said in a statement to CNN.

The College Board will provide additional SAT testing dates "as soon as the public health situation allows," White added.

Students and advocacy groups want optional testing to be permanent

The majority of the universities and colleges that have adopted these test-optional policies are doing it temporarily to accommodate students during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, believes that this moment could possibly persuade them to adopt such policies permanently.

"This could well be the tipping point," Schaeffer told CNN. "Removal of the test was already rapidly increasing... From our experience, we've seen that when schools do these pilot programs, they never go back."

Making testing optional is "a win-win for both the students and admission offices," Schaeffer added. "Schools get more applicants and a more diverse pool of applicants, so it's a win for them. And on the student side, the opportunity to be evaluated by more than a score is very appealing."

Both the College Board and ACT, Inc. stand by its testing.

"ACT scores are highly predictive of success in college," said Colby. "They provide colleges with a standardized measure of academic readiness that can be used to compare students from different schools, districts, and states on an level playing field, something that no other admission factor can provide."

Colby and White cited a yearlong review done by the University of California's Standardized Testing Task Force that found standardized tests to be the best predictor of a college student's success.

"In every situation, we are committed to finding opportunities through which all students, especially low income students, can distinguish themselves in admissions," White said.

ACT launched a website featuring free digital learning and workforce resources meant for students, teachers and colleges alike who are impacted by the coronavirus.

Focusing on socioeconomic differences

A growing number of students and advocates have been joining the test-optional movement, arguing that standardized tests aren't a true reflection of a student's academic ability. When you factor in a student's race or socioeconomic status, the disparities become even greater as seen evident in last year's "Varsity Blues" scandal.

The massive college admissions scam proved that some wealthy families could buy their children's way into college. Federal prosecutors indicted dozens of people for their alleged roles in a scheme that involved either cheating on standardized tests or bribing college coaches and school officials to accept students as college athletes. The scheme landed actress Felicity Huffman in jail and Lori Loughlin in a fierce legal battle.

Research has repeatedly proved that students from wealthy families score higher on the SAT and ACT, compared to students from low-income families.

According to a 2015 analysis by Inside Higher Ed, the lowest average scores for each part of the SAT came from students with less than $20,000 in family income. The highest scores came from those with more than $200,000 in family income.

And when it comes to race, "Hispanic and African-American students from comparable socioeconomic families scored lower than their Asian-American and White peers," according to a 2013 paper titled "Race, Poverty and SAT Scores."

More than 1,000 accredited four-year colleges and universities have implemented permanent test-optional or test-flexible policies, according to FairTest.

"What we have found at Bowdoin [is that] test scores do not correlate to success on campus," Claudia Marroquin, the director of admissions at Bowdoin College in Maine, said at the Student Voice news conference. "The way that we evaluate our students, the way that our students behave in our classroom is not based on a single test."

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