How will the SAT and ACT make it through the coronavirus?

University of California may soon deal one of the bigger blows to the prestige of the long-entrenched standardized tests
By: | May 18, 2020
University of California President Janet Napolitano, shown here with the University of California, Santa Cruz women's soccer team, wants the system to drop SAT and ACT scores as admissions requirements.University of California President Janet Napolitano, shown here with the University of California, Santa Cruz women's soccer team, wants the system to drop SAT and ACT scores as admissions requirements.

The growing number of colleges and universities dropping SAT and ACT scores as admissions requirements is one of the most positive developments for equity and access in education during the coronavirus outbreak, one higher ed advocate says.

Colleges admissions officers are instead asking prospective students to demonstrate their mastery of critical college and career skills, says Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges & Universities.

“Forgoing standardized tests allows us to reconceive and revolutionize higher education in a way that’s more equitable,” Pasquerella says. “For far too long, we’ve asked students to answer questions for which we already have the answer. Now, we’re asking them to grapple with fundamental questions of human existence and to deal with the unscripted problems of the future.”

California confronts SAT/ACT concerns

The University of California may soon deal one of the bigger blows to the prestige of the long-entrenched standardized tests.


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President Janet Napolitano on Monday recommended that the system drop SAT and ACT scores as admissions requirements through 2024. The system had already made the tests optional for fall 2021 applicants.

Eliminating the tests would  “allow the university to modify or create a new test that better aligns with the content UC expects applicants to have learned and with UC’s values,” Napolitano wrote to the system’s board of trustees.

“The university can also exercise its leadership in making available to students a properly designed and administered test that adds value to admissions decisions, enhances equity and access for more students, has a positive impact on student preparation, and does so in a manner that reduces the social and monetary burdens associated with the currently required ACT/SAT tests,” Napolitano wrote.

Do standardized tests reflect success?

The Rochester Institute of Technology in New York also announced Monday that submitting SAT and ACT scores will be optional for all applicants starting in fall 2021.


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The tests are not the best indicators of student success and show bias against women, underrepresented minority students and students with lower socioeconomic status, Marian Nicoletti, the director of undergraduate admissions, said in a university statement.

Further equity concerns will be raised if the SATs or ACTs are conducted online, considering not all students have equal access to the technology they need to participate, Nicoletti said.

“Nationally, underrepresented minority students and women tend to test lower,” Nicoletti said. “So even though they may be perfectly qualified for admission and thrive in the classroom, they just test very differently. As our demographics are shifting, we believe the test is not a fair reflection of a student’s ability to succeed in college.”

The sudden and non-controversial postponement of SATs, ACTs and other standardized tests this spring may indicate their academic value has been overestimated, A. Katrise Perera, superintendent of Oregon’s Gresham-Barlow School District, says.

“If we can drop them as fast as we did that tells me one thing, they’re really not that important,” Perera says.

During online learning, the district’s teachers have assigned more student-centered work that challenges learners to “think and do,” Assistant Superintendent Lisa Riggs adds.


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.