Could COVID-19 accelerate the switch to test-optional admissions policies?

With standardized tests postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some colleges and universities have decided it’s time to stop requiring applicants to submit their SAT and ACT scores. As the coronavirus crisis continues to halt public life, the organizations that run the SAT and ACT have canceled or rescheduled exams through May, preventing many high school juniors nationwide from taking the tests and shrinking the window in which they could take the exams multiple times for higher scores.

Case Western Reserve University, Concordia University Texas, Mansfield University, and Westminster College are some of the colleges that decided in recent days to go test optional. “We would rather students focus as best they can on their academic subjects rather than worrying about the SAT or ACT,” Richard Bischoff, Case Western’s vice president for enrollment management, told Inside Higher Ed. “Testing has always been just one factor in our evaluation of applications, and we are confident that we will continue to make quality admission decisions for those students who are either unable to test or who choose not to submit test scores.”

Canceled exams tip the scales

Many of these institutions were already weighing test-optional policies, but the coronavirus crisis and resulting exam cancellations tipped the scales. The University of Toledo, for instance, was “considering more flexible admissions policies for students entering in the spring of 2021, but coronavirus accelerated its plans,” Jim Anderson, the university’s vice president for enrollment management, told Education Dive. It has now dropped standardized testing for students applying in 2020.

Anderson noted that in addition to the SAT and ACT changes, the COVID-19 crisis has amplified other equity concerns. Some students don’t have adequate internet access away from school and thus can’t access online test prep materials or high school courses, while others have lost access to their high school counselors. 

Related: The Chicago effect: Selective schools adopt ‘test-optional’ policy at an increasing pace >

Higher education leaders believe the test-optional trend will only grow in the coming months. Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, told Education Dive that the number of schools going test-optional is “moving toward critical mass.”


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