During the pandemic, many colleges set aside their test requirements for admissions as students had nowhere to take their exams due to school closures. Like many education policies enacted over the last two years, it seems the practice is here to stay.
Today, at least 1,835 U.S. colleges and universities have implemented test-optional or test-free admissions, according to the most recent data provided by FairTest, an organization that advocates for fair and equitable applications of standardized testing. Among these colleges, nearly 1,500 have adopted the policy permanently.
“An overwhelming majority of undergraduate admissions offices now make selection decisions without relying on ACT/SAT results,” said FairTest Executive Director Harry Feder in a statement. “These schools recognize that test scores do not measure academic merit. What they do assess quite accurately is family wealth, but that should not be the criteria for getting into college. Deemphasizing standard exam scores is a model that all of U.S. education—from K-12 through graduate schools—should follow.”
According to the organization’s tally, more than 1,750 higher education institutions have adopted ACT/SAT-optional policies for the fall of 2023. Applicants will have control over whether their test scores are to be considered for evaluation. Additionally, 85 schools are implementing test-blind policies, including the entire California public university system. In other words, applicants’ test scores will not be reviewed even if they are submitted.
“Admissions without test scores is the new normal for this generation of college applicants,'” said Bob Schaeffer, FairTest public education director.
Proponents of the policy argue it leads to a more diverse applicant pool as it helps to open the window of opportunity for disadvantaged and underrepresented student groups. However, the drawback is that it makes it more difficult to evaluate students fairly, according to one researcher.
Kelly Slay, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, has spoken with a variety of admissions officers across higher ed institutions to get a feel for how they’re approaching their test-blind policies. “One of our key findings was the tensions that were emerging around these test-optional policies,” said Slay in an interview with The Hechinger Report. “There’s a struggle on how to implement them.”
Additionally, although the strategy might produce a diverse pool of applicants, that may not be the case for the actual student body.
“One of the things we concluded is that test-optional does not mean an increase in diversity—racial diversity or socio-economic diversity,” she continued in the interview. “If we haven’t figured out how to review students who come from diverse backgrounds, who come from schools where they may not have the same access to AP or IB courses, then that could mean these students still aren’t going to be admitted.”
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