A new report on standardized testing’s role in admissions decisions and postsecondary access urges colleges and universities to take advantage of the disruptions caused by COVID-19 to reconsider their SAT and ACT requirements—even after the pandemic relents. Published by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the report notes that more than half of four-year colleges and universities have waived their standardized testing requirements for the 2020-21 admissions cycle, amid roadblocks to administering tests during a pandemic and growing skepticism about the tests’ value in considering applicants.
“Time has changed much about the founding purposes and assumptions behind these [standardized] exams,” the report says, according to Inside Higher Ed. “Indeed, the very notions of ‘diamonds in the rough’ and even the ‘common yardstick’ are culturally suspect—are not all students capable of success if given equal opportunity?”
A chance to reflect
While the report does not explicitly call for institutions to do away with standardized testing requirements, it is “highly critical” of the tests’ use in admissions decisions, notes Inside Higher Ed. Writing that “access and equity [was] the lens through which they approached their work,” the NACAC task force suggests that the SAT and ACT create unnecessary barriers, particularly for international test takers and low-income students, who often can’t afford the exams’ cost and intensive tutoring.
Saying that “the task force respects that institutions will arrive at different decisions about the usefulness of standardized tests in their admission processes,” NACAC urges admissions teams to at least closely examine their policies to understand the impact on students and the tests’ validity in predicting college success.
The report also recommends a framework for setting next steps around testing requirements. Those decisions, NACAC says, should prioritize the public good, be student-centered, foster students’ access to higher education, promote student success, incorporate frequent reviews, and consider unintended consequences that affect secondary education.
Will institutions switch back?
Angel B. Pérez, CEO of NACAC, says he hopes that colleges and universities that have relaxed their standardized test requirements during the pandemic will keep them that way.
“Many admissions officers were already skeptical of the validity of the exams and whether or not they served their purposes well,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “I can’t imagine a scenario where a year or two after being test-optional, when institutions realize that the students they admitted are just as good as previous classes, that they would reverse course. It just wouldn’t make sense.”