Why this expert considers some test optional provisions ‘scams’ and inequitable

Eliminating SATs and ACTs could create inequities for students with poor socio-economic backgrounds and require more testing in some cases
By: | June 12, 2020
Many test optional colleges will most likely depend on GPA requirements for admission and scholarships, but this will be challenging for many ACT and SAT optional schools that are competitive.Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Numerous colleges and universities have eliminated SATs and ACTs in an attempt to improve equity and access during the coronavirus outbreak. But these so-called test optional colleges could be creating additional inequities for students with poor socio-economic backgrounds and could even be forcing more testing on students if done improperly.

“The big problem is when schools announce they are going test optional, but are really only test optional for admissions and still require students to submit scores in order to receive scholarships,” says CEO Shaan Patel of Prep Expert, an SAT and ACT prep course. “A lot of parents and students are getting this false sense of relief that SATs or ACTs are not required, but then find out if they don’t submit scores, then they won’t get a scholarship. This is a problem because student debt is a real crisis.”

The total amount of student loan debt reached $1.47 trillion at the end of 2018 with as many as 44.7 million Americans having student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.


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

Related: Colleges go test-optional to ease burden on students


“Colleges therefore need to be very upfront with parents and students if they are only test optional for the admissions side,” says Patel.

Some ACT and SAT optional schools could also choose to replace standardized testing with a proprietary exam. This would require students to complete the SATs or ACTs for the chance to get into other schools in addition to taking this new test. “ I think this is a scam because it further exacerbates anxiety and stress for students and creates additional unfairness for those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds,” says Patel. “As soon as an institution realizes the first standardized sample questions, there are going to be test prep companies that are going to deliver tutoring for this exam, which will cost money. It really doesn’t solve the problem. It’s actually not less testing. It’s more testing.”

How could students be compared in test optional colleges?

ACT and SAT optional schools that will no longer compare applicants based on their standardized testing scores will most likely have to rely on GPA requirements. “The problem with GPA requirements is that they are not comparable across schools,” says Pateel. “For example, you will be looking at totally different GPAs if you are comparing a student going to a very elite boarding school versus a high school from a low-income neighborhood. To make this comparison work, schools need to take where students are coming from into account in every application.”

For this reason, more competitive schools that receive numerous applications should keep the SATs and ACTs for scholarships, while others don’t have to. “If your acceptance rate is 5% and your top scholarship has 90,000 applications with only 150 slots available, how will you sort through all of them and make it fair? It is almost impossible,” says Patel. “Just remember: If you eliminate standardized testing for admissions, make sure to tell students up front that the SATs and ACTs will still be required for scholarships. Don’t make them read all of the fine print.”

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