US admissions counsellors push to end standardised tests

Opponents seize momentum as pandemic leaves majority of US universities test-optional

August 27, 2020
Small white exams desks in a hall
Source: iStock

The leading US association of admissions counsellors has called for universities to make clear that standardised admission tests will be optional for next year’s high school leavers.

In?its plea, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) cited both the growing opposition to the tests among US institutions and the worldwide difficulty in scheduling the tests amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NACAC, representing some 15,000 guidance counsellors worldwide, cited tallies showing that most US colleges and universities – nearly 1,600 – have now waived standardised testing requirements for the current academic year.

That’s a?sharp increase?from?about?1,000 when the coronavirus pandemic began forcing widespread school closures across the US early this year, according to the data compiled by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest).

NACAC’s leaders unanimously agreed that colleges should tell 11th-grade students now, as they struggle to arrange SAT and ACT tests during the pandemic, that the tests will not be necessary when they begin applying for college, said David Hawkins, NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy.

The association expressed particular concern for international students. It cited United Nations data showing that pandemic-related school closings affected more than 90 per cent of students worldwide, with both ACT and SAT testing centres closed or severely limited in their capacity.

Despite such obstacles, more than 100 public US universities still require SAT or ACT scores as part of their admissions processes, NACAC said. Students in many locations are now faced with travelling long distances to find open test centres with space for them.

Many other US colleges began dropping or de-emphasising the tests long before the pandemic began, concerned that?they regularly disadvantage poorer and minority students and unreliably predict college success and perhaps?looking for more freedom?in who they admit.

A major milestone came in May when the University of California system, after an extended and hotly contested review,?agreed it would phase out?the use of commercial standardised testing in its admissions processes.

The organisers of the SAT and ACT – the two long-established tests – have been?struggling to fight back. The College Board, which produces the SAT, last year suggested adding an “adversity score” to help colleges identify students raised in more challenging circumstances. It?retreated a few months later, amid criticism over the simplicity and inadequacy of its attempt to measure human adversity.

The NACAC issued its recommendation that colleges drop such tests one week after the group published a?report outlining the ways?that the coronavirus pandemic makes the known race- and wealth-based disparities of standardised testing even worse.

Progress toward ending standardised testing requirements has been impressive in recent months, said Robert Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest.

Admissions counsellors lobbying lawmakers played key roles in convincing the University System of Georgia to drop its standardised testing requirements, Mr Schaeffer said. “Our next target is the University of Florida system, which is the sole major public system holdout in the Southeast,” he said.

Officials representing the SAT and ACT did not respond to requests for comment on the NACAC’s recommendation.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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