Most U.S. colleges have dropped ACT/SAT requirement for fall 2021 admission

More than 1,240 of the nation’s 2,330 bachelor’s degree-granting schools have said they will not require students to submit ACT/SAT scores when they apply for fall 2021 admission, according to an update from The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). That tally reflects an increase of nearly 200 colleges and universities since the start of 2020; after mid-March, “the strong ACT/SAT-optional wave became a tsunami,” says Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, which has long advocated for test-optional admissions. 

Inside Higher Ed reports that all Ivy League schools have waived their standardized testing requirements for the 2020-2021 applications cycle, as have Stanford University, Duke University, the University of Virginia, and many other research universities. The University of California also decided to phase out the system’s use of SAT and ACT test scores when evaluating candidates for admission—a change expected to have ripple effects across the nation.

Whereas the standardized tests were once “considered essential to apply to the most selective colleges and universities,” observers are now asking “whether the test-optional pause could become a longer-term policy,” The Washington Post writes.   

No home exam for now

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education leaders were increasingly voicing concerns that the SAT and ACT exacerbate racial and ethic disparities in educational access. Then, COVID-19-related shutdowns canceled spring and summer testing sessions, preventing at least one million first-time SAT-takers in the high school Class of 2021 from completing the exams. 

Related: SAT/ACT prep for at-home exams as more colleges go test-optional >

The College Board, which administers the SAT, had floated the idea of offering a home version of the test. However, the company earlier this month announced that it would pause that plan, citing disparities in technology access and students’ testing environments. “There are more important things than tests right now,” David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, told PBS. “In making these difficult decisions we focused on reducing the anxiety that students and families are experiencing this year.”

U.S. News to start ranking test-blind schools

Acknowledging the testing disruption, U.S. News and World Report announced this month that it will rank test-blind colleges when it publishes the 2021 Best Colleges ratings this September. Previously, test-blind institutions were excluded and listed as “unranked”; test-optional and test-flexible institutions, however, have always been ranked.   

U.S. News said it “believes now is the right time to end the use of standardized tests in admissions decisions as a requirement for inclusion in the rankings.” The announcement was “noteworthy for anyone fascinated by sudden shifts in admissions,” writes The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Not long ago, going test blind was a lonely exercise—and uncommon.”
Test scores count for 7.75 percent of national universities’ total U.S. News ranking score, although the magazine currently reduces that weight for test-optional institutions where less than three-fourths of incoming students submit scores. Noting that “some enrollment officials call that a penalty for not requiring ACT and SAT scores,” The Chronicle speculates that U.S. News may need to address that “one wrinkle in its methodology.” Thus far, the magazine has not specified how it will adjust its methodology to accommodate the incorporation of test-blind schools, Inside Higher Ed reports.

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