Admissions group urges public colleges to go test optional next academic year

Dive Brief:

  • The industry’s college admissions group is asking that public institutions not require entrance exams scores for the 2021-22 academic year. 

  • The pandemic caused significant closures among K-12 schools, some of the most common SAT and ACT testing sites, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) said in a statement Wednesday. Those schools also play an “integral role” in the admissions process, helping students apply to colleges and fill out financial aid forms, the organization notes.

  • NACAC’s call comes as many institutions — public and private — move to test-optional policies, citing barriers for students taking the exams. 

Dive Insight:

More than half of all U.S. four-year colleges, nearly 1,600, have waived admissions test requirements this academic year, according to NACAC. 

Even before the health crisis, institutions were shifting to test-optional policies at record speed. More than 50 colleges eliminated test score requirements in 2019, the most in a single year, according to FairTest, a group that advocates for equitable uses of standardized exams. 

But the coronavirus shut down most K-12 schools since it took hold in the U.S. in March, leading test providers to widely suspend SAT and ACT test administration. The College Board, the nonprofit that runs the SAT, estimated in April that at least one million high school juniors couldn’t sit for their first chance at taking the test. Many K-12 schools are reopening this fall but it’s unclear if they will be able stay open through the academic year.

Despite these complications, more than 100 public universities, and a few state systems entirely, didn’t waive test score requirements this admissions cycle, NACAC said in its statement.

The “prohibitive” price of taking the exams disparately affects vulnerable populations, particularly low-income students and “many minority communities,” NACAC said.

“The existence of public universities is predicated on their ability to serve all the citizens in their respective states, not just those with means or privilege,” the statement said. “We cannot muzzle the dire reality our students, schools, and colleges face.”

Testing critics have long complained that fees and other costs associated with the exams can prevent certain students from earning a high score. Students can seek fee waivers. But wealthy ones can afford extensive test prep and tutoring, gaining an edge in college admissions over their less affluent peers. 

This is one of the arguments made in a lawsuit against the University of California (UC) System, whose state is one of the largest testing markets in the country. UC’s governing board voted in May to phase out the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement, much to the College Board’s chagrin. Testing experts previously told Education Dive that institutions that flip to test-optional rules almost never return to their former admissions policies.  

Earlier this month, NACAC released a separate report urging colleges to reevaluate the role of standardized testing in admissions. It also asked institutions that have gone test-optional to sign a statement affirming they won’t penalize students who don’t submit scores. The group’s new CEO, Angel Pérez, said in a recent interview with Education Dive he wanted to prioritize college access.

Pérez, in an op-ed in the Hartford Courant on Thursday, reiterated that stance, writing that in light of the recent racial justice protests, “equity and fairness” in admissions has taken on “even greater urgency.” 

Decades ago, higher education adopted college entrance exams because they believed it put every student on a level playing field,” he wrote. “That wasn’t true then, and it certainly isn’t now.”

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