Dive Brief:

  • Student Voice, a student-centric nonprofit that seeks equity in education, is calling on all colleges to suspend admissions test requirements because of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The group launched a petition in late March calling on institutions to adopt test-optional policies for the 2020-21 admissions cycle. During an online press briefing Monday, it brought in admissions professionals and high school and college students to speak in support of their campaign.

  • At least 60 colleges have adopted test-optional policies this year (some temporarily), a trend experts predict will continue. 

Dive Insight:

Advocates for test-optional policies were galvanized after a record number of institutions last year decided applicants would no longer need to submit SAT and ACT scores. Many observers were confident more colleges would follow suit in 2020. 

The spread of the coronavirus has only sped up the test-optional movement. 

In the first week of April, at least 30 institutions waived their admissions test requirements for students matriculating in the fall of 2021, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). 

Exam providers canceled or rescheduled multiple SAT and ACT testing dates this spring, spurring concerns that disadvantaged students especially would not be able to take them before applying for college. 

These concerns mirror long-standing criticisms of the tests: that they favor wealthy students who can pay for intensive tutoring and to take the exams multiple times, and create more barriers for impoverished students and students of color. 

Activist groups, students and a local school district sued the University of California System on those grounds last year, pressing it to discontinue admissions testing. UC recently said it would not ask applicants for the fall 2021 term to submit test scores, leading some to believe it might do away with the requirement permanently.

The UC Board of Regents is due in May to vote on a test-optional policy, and a favorable decision would likely reverberate in the admissions sector. During Student Voice’s press briefing, a student representative on the board, Jamaal Muwwakkil, did not share which way the regents are leaning, but he noted that the coronavirus had exacerbated existing inequities with the tests nationwide. 

Student Voice’s digital petition has been signed by nearly 1,200 people as of Tuesday afternoon. 

In Monday’s briefing, admissions professionals from two private colleges — Bowdoin College, in Maine, and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), in Massachusetts — said going test-optional has benefitted them. 

At WPI, students who do not submit test scores stay in school and graduate at the same rate as those who do, Andrew Palumbo, assistant vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions and financial aid, said during the briefing

Research suggests test scores aren’t the best metric for determining future academic performance. One recent study showed high school GPA is five times more accurate at predicting college graduation rates than the ACT. 

Whether institutions will scrap the tests entirely is unclear. Selective universities tend to use the SAT and ACT to make cuts, and some colleges and systems field tens of thousands of applications a year and fall back on test scores to filter them.

Many admissions officers would like to abandon the tests, Jon Boeckenstedt, Oregon State University’s vice provost for enrollment management told Education Dive in an email. But pressure from governing bodies, or even faculty concerned with institutional prestige, prevent them doing so. Oregon State announced last month it would drop the testing requirement for freshmen entering in the fall of 2021 because of the coronavirus. 

“I think, in general, most college admissions officers would like to be free of the constraints they feel tests impose on them,” Boeckenstedt wrote.

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