COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions have been challenging, but one good thing has come from this pandemic: the abolition of standardized tests for college. Yes, I am talking about the dreaded ACT and SAT. While this decision may not be permanent for some universities, such as Stanford, many are adopting test-optional as a permanent policy.
A court order on Sept. 1, 2020, stated that the prestigious University of California (UC) system cannot use applicants’ SAT or ACT scores during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a follow-up to an earlier decision made in May of 2020 by the UCs to not require SAT/ACT scores, stating that the UCs were test-optional, with the exception of Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz which were completely test-blind.
The decision to dump standardized tests has been a long time in the making. After all, these tests tend to give an advantage to wealthy students who are able to afford preparation via SAT/ACT prep courses and access to tutoring. This is something that can cost up to thousands of dollars, making it inaccessible for low-income students.
Paying for the SAT/ACT alone can be quite difficult considering that “it costs $47.50 to take the SAT ($64.50 with the Essay portion), and $22 for each of the SAT subject tests, not including the $26 registration fee. The ACT costs $50.50 ($67 with the Writing portion),” according to The College Board. This is hundreds of dollars one needs to spend before even paying for college application fees and college tuition.
Some might argue that tests, and grades for that matter, are not the best representation of disabled students. It is already a strenuous task to be tested to have an Individual Education Plan (IEP), a document devised to accommodate students with disabilities; it’s even worse because these students haven’t been able to test with accommodations during the pandemic, a large factor in the judge’s decision in the court case. For example, it has proven to be difficult for the College Board to set up space for students with accommodations–such as those who have an extra amount of allotted time or take tests in a separate room–due to the requirement of staying six feet apart. There are even reports of students who requested ahead of time not being a priority.
Moreover, the inability to perform well on these tests has always affected many students with disabilities. Even though a student with a disability might be highly intelligent, they tend to have very specific learning styles and ways in which they can be assessed. This means standardized tests are not always an accurate measure of their capability. Unfortunately, many colleges do not acknowledge that, causing students with disabilities to frequently be turned away because of poor test scores. Abolishing the SAT/ACT for all colleges would be a first step in the right direction for the future of these institutions.
So, what is the best way to screen students for college? It’s important to note that there were already test-optional schools in the United States. For instance, the University of Puget Sound that requires two short answer essay questions if the applicant chooses not to take the SAT or submit their scores. Another example would be Lewis and Clark College, which accepts a portfolio of one’s academic work in place of the SAT.
Getting rid of standardized tests emphasizes what makes students stand out from the millions of other applicants. This includes examples of leadership within a student’s community or more recommendations from teachers who can speak to their ability. More emphasis should be placed on personal interviews, in-person or virtual, so the school can really assess a student’s real-time ability when answering tough questions about how they would make a difference on campus. This also aligns more with how people apply for jobs, unlike anonymous test scores that someone with the right resources could manipulate, which they have.
The Coronavirus pandemic has offered a new world for college admissions. It’s time to embrace students’ strengths and unique characteristics rather than subject them to standardized tests that favor the rich and privileged and reduce them to numbers on a piece of paper.