Will the optional test become the new standard in admissions?

The Iowa Board of Regents voted this month to make the test optional, permanently. This means that Iowa State University, University of Iowa, and University of Northern Iowa will no longer require the SAT or ACT for admissions.

A report prepared for the Regents said: “Currently, of UNI’s 10 peer institutions, six have moved permanently to the optional test, three are still in a pilot of the policy and only one continues to require ACT or SAT. . Many Big 10 and Big 12 institutions also have optional pilot test policies, but three in the Big 10 and at least three in the Big 12 have made a permanent change to test optional admissions while the rest pursue a pilot of politics for more years. while they are evaluating.

“Our results continued to indicate that the tests have some value in predicting freshman GPA [grade point average]but ultimately had a limited relationship with likelihood of graduation,” Director of Studies Rachel Boon said at the Regents meeting.

Boon said the “widespread” shift to optional testing policies has created a sense of urgency for Iowa to make a change.

In December, Harvard University extended its elective testing period to the Class of 2030 (the current admissions cycle is for the Class of 2026).

“The current admissions cycle…is the second cycle students have been able to apply to Harvard without requiring standardized testing, as many students continue to have limited access to testing sites due to COVID-19. In accordance with Harvard’s whole-person admissions process, standardized testing is one of several factors considered. Achievements inside and outside the classroom during the high school years – including extracurricular activities, community involvement, employment and family responsibilities – are considered part of the admissions process. Students who do not submit standardized test scores will not be disadvantaged in their application process. Applicants will be considered on the basis of what they have presented, and students are encouraged to send in any materials that they believe will convey their high school accomplishments and their promise for the future,” Harvard said. to explain his decision.

Harvard’s decision attracted a lot of attention. After all, Harvard is Harvard. And its position makes it easier for other highly competitive colleges to follow suit.

But the dozens of decisions like the one in Iowa can have more impact. Even taking into account the huge pool of applicants that Harvard gets, many more students try to get into the nation’s Iowa every year.

Statewide decisions for public colleges are especially important because many students only apply to public colleges in their home state.

Another Iowa fact: Iowa City is home to the ACT, which sponsors the test of the same name that has been taken by hundreds of thousands of students even last year amid the pandemic.

“It’s here to stay”

Janet Godwin, CEO of ACT, said that while she prefers colleges to require testing, “I’m not surprised by the voluntary testing movement. It’s the new normal. He is here to stay.

She said submitting test results “is a personal choice.” Godwin added that students and their families know “how they should best present themselves.”

At the same time, she called on colleges to have “more nuanced discussions” about optional testing policies.

For example, ACT studied the relationship between grades and ACT scores. (Many critics of standardized tests say the tests provide little to college admissions officers that they couldn’t get from the grades.) ACT found a correlation between grades and ACT scores for 75% of students , but not for the remaining 25%. students. Some of the 25% do better in college and some do worse, based on their ACT scores.

Godwin said some students might miss college admission because they don’t submit their grades.

She also said she talks with college admissions officers all the time and they’re concerned that grade inflation is being hidden when students don’t submit their grades.

For these reasons, Godwin said, she opposed blind testing policies, under which the ACT and SAT are not reviewed, even if a student wishes to submit them.

The College Board is the other organization focused on standardized tests, in its case the SAT.

Priscilla Rodriguez, Vice President of College Readiness Assessments for the College Board, released this statement in response to questions. While she didn’t use the phrase “new normal,” she also talked about student choices regarding grade submission.

“The College Board and SAT were founded to increase access to college and that remains our primary mission. When nearly every college took the optional test during the pandemic, millions of students still took This trend continued with the high school class of 2022. Most students want to take the SAT, find out how they did, and then decide if they want to submit their scores to colleges. 83% of students said they wanted the ability to submit test scores to colleges. This finding remains consistent whether or not students took the SAT and regardless of race/ethnicity and education level. parent education.

She added: “Some students may decide their application is stronger without test scores, while others will benefit from sending them, including the hundreds of thousands of rural, first-generation and underrepresented students whose SAT scores bolster their college applications. Evidence shows that when colleges consider SAT scores in the context of where students live and go to school, the SAT helps increase diversity. As we emerge from the pandemic, the SAT will remain one of the most accessible and affordable ways for students to distinguish themselves. It is important to preserve a student’s choice to submit grades. »

Optional state and university adoption test

Beyond individual colleges and universities that will test as an option, states are taking the plunge.

Beyond Iowa, there is significant movement in the following states:

  • In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed legislation in May to make admissions testing optional at all public colleges and universities in the state. The bill ended, permanently, a state requirement that all applicants submit ACT or SAT scores.
  • In Illinois, Governor J. B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed a law requiring all public colleges and universities in the state to offer optional test admissions.
  • In Montana, the Montana University System Board of Trustees voted to make SAT and ACT scores optional, permanently, except that ACT scores will be required for honor scholarships.
  • In Washington State, all four-year public colleges have decided to switch to the optional test.

California may be the ultimate prize for the optional test move.

In May, the University of California system agreed to have all campuses blind test (meaning that SAT and ACT scores will not be considered when making entry decisions). admission).

And when it comes to the California State University system (the largest four-year system in the nation), Chancellor Joseph I. Castro supports eliminating a testing requirement, and the board is expected to vote on a recommendation by this sense in March.

Counting individual and private colleges, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) said nearly 80 percent of four-year colleges won’t need the SAT or ACT for admissions this year. (This includes colleges that simply extended the optional test for another year, as well as those that made permanent decisions.)

Robert Schaeffer, Executive Director of FairTest, said, “From our perspective, ACT/SAT elective policies continue to establish themselves as the new standard in undergraduate admissions…for institutions of higher education.”


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