Colleges go test-optional

Some universities waive standardized test requirements for the class of 2021

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Sarah Turman Photography

Like many colleges across the nation, UVA will not require SAT or ACT scores from the class of '21

Lauren Thompson, Reporter

The novel coronavirus has severely disrupted McLean student’s academic careers, forcing classes to go virtual and making 4th quarter pass/fail. For Juniors, that is just the beginning: spring SAT and ACT dates were moved to June, and apprehension as to whether these new testing dates will also be postponed persists.

Junior Meenakshi Chinatha said she was partly relieved her SAT got cancelled, because now she gets more time to study. But she was also very disappointed. “I worked hard for something and then it was cancelled.”

That is why as of April 15th, 50+ colleges have made the leap towards test optional applications. This includes one of McLean’s most applied-to schools, the University of Virginia, as well as highly selective liberal arts schools like Williams and Amherst, religiously-affiliated schools like Brigham Young University, and all 14 University of California campuses. See the most updated list of temporarily test-optional colleges here.

“The goal of these changes is to ensure a fair process that does not affect the life chances of students who, but for the coronavirus pandemic, would have become full-time students at the University of California,” Academic Senate Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani said in a University of California statement. 

From Northeastern University, Vice President of Enrollment Sundar Kumarasam said that the widespread lack of access to standardized testing, coupled with the significant uncertainty as to when new test dates will become available, prompted the change. “Many students will have a limited time for testing and retesting between now and the fall, especially those students applying for Early Decision I and Early Action, which represent over 55 percent of our applications.”

“We wanted to provide clarity and ease anxiety as soon as we could. If future test dates are not available in students’ local areas or if students are worried about how to test in a socially distant manner, we do not want them to feel pressure to put themselves in situations that are not in their best interest.” Amherst Dean of Admissions Matt McGann said in a statement to the New York Times. 

“Many students will have a limited time for testing and retesting between now and the fall, especially those students applying for Early Decision I and Early Action, which represent over 55 percent of our applications.”

This unintentional test run of SAT/ACT optional admissions will only heighten the longstanding controversy over standardized testing requirements. Some argue that the tests are unnecessarily tied to socioeconomic status, while others maintain that they provide objective college preparedness data. 

In a statement to the Washington Post, National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fairtest.org) Interim Director Bob Schaeffer said that testing activists hope that the “wholesale rethinking of the ways America evaluates students, teachers and schools” will be a silver lining of this national emergency.

“What will policymakers do about testing after the current crisis is over?” Schaeffer asked.“Will there be a knee-jerk restoration of high-stakes testing? Or will the fact that high-quality educational decisions continued to be made in K-12 and higher education without standardized exams persuade many to seriously review the evidence before they react?” 

On the other hand, ACT Inc. spokesman Edward Colby said that “[as] some institutions make temporary adjustments to their admission criteria to mitigate COVID-19 impact on applications and enrollment, we’re reminding students and colleges that ACT remains committed to benefiting them both.” 

Both the SAT and ACT have announced plans to implement online testing solutions. Whether or not this will prevent colleges from removing the requirement remains to be seen.

Besides lessening testing requirements, many schools are waiving enrollment deposits, enabling pass/fail grades for parts of the 2020 school year, and adapting their financial aid policies to reflect the economic challenges applicant’s families may undergo during this crisis. 

If all colleges were test-optional, would you still take either the SAT or the ACT?

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