Pro: Should Colleges Keep Test-Optional Policies Post-Pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted nationwide debate over college admission policy, highlighting various issues regarding the SAT and ACT. Throughout the pandemic, many students have been unable to take either test, forcing colleges to adopt test-optional policies. To achieve a more racially and economically diverse student body, it is crucial for colleges to continue these policies.
In the past, standardized testing policy has hindered college access for less affluent students. Studying for the ACT or SAT comes with the cost of study guides, tutors, practice tests and testing fees. These costs mean that students from lower economic backgrounds do not receive the same level of preparation as students of higher economic status, causing a disparity in test scores. Lower scores discourage students from applying to top schools, ultimately excluding students of lower socioeconomic status from more prestigious universities.
The shift to test-optional policies has been a step toward adequate representation for minorities within colleges. Research from Common App, a website that many students use for college applications, shows that applications from minorities, first-generation applicants and students requiring financial aid increased 22% during the 2020-2021 application cycle. Additional research from Bates College and Providence College supports the notion that applications from minorities and students of lower socioeconomic status increase with test-optional policies.
Not only do applications increase, but research shows that test-optional policies also result in more diversity among enrolled students. The American Education Research Journal found a 10-12% increase in minority enrollment and 3-4% increase in students requiring financial aid during the 2020-21 cycle.
Test-optional policies promote a more diverse applicant pool and student body without affecting the academic performance of the students accepted without test results. Research from Bates and Providence showed no significant difference in the GPA of students who submitted tests and those who did not. Furthermore, test-optional students are more likely to return to college for their sophomore year.
Research measuring post-university success continues to back test-optional policy. A study of three different classes of Harvard College found that alumni who had low SAT scores became more financially stable, had higher job satisfaction and made more contributions to their respective communities. Another study from the University of Michigan found that testing requirements made admissions committees less successful at predicting future success.
In essence, mandatory testing has become obsolete for colleges. It fails to produce a diverse applicant pool or enrollment class and cannot predict the academic or post-college performance of admitted students. Instead, standardized testing scores correlate strongly with student resources, ultimately putting minority students and those who require financial aid at a disadvantage. As discontent with standardized testing grows, institutions such as the University of California public schools and Harvard University have mandated test-optional policies until 2025 and 2026, respectively. If the rest of the country follows suit, test-optional policy will be a significant step toward reforming the inequalities present in American education today.
Con: Should Colleges Keep Test-Optional Policies Post-Pandemic?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities across the country decided to cancel mandatory SAT and ACT standardized tests for applicants. According to The Washington Post, two-thirds of American colleges and universities said they would not require test scores for those who were applying to be freshmen in 2022. However, this temporary adjustment may remain in the college application system for longer than expected. Several colleges, including Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia, have expressed their support for keeping SAT and ACT tests optional, even after the pandemic has subsided. Colleges and universities should reinstate mandatory SAT and ACT testing for applicants post-pandemic, as these tests provide validity to students applying for college, as well as offer additional opportunities, including financial aid and scholarships.
The chief purpose of SAT and ACT standardized testing is to validate students applying to a specific college. The SAT and ACT tests are designed to test students on their academic aptitude and college readiness. Without these tests, colleges are left without adequate knowledge about each applicant’s skill and potential for future academic success. Colleges are at risk of admitting applicants who may be underqualified for college, while simultaneously overlooking other applicants who are better suited. This can be harmful to high-performing students, who may be disregarded in favor of their peers. This, in turn, can be harmful to colleges, which could be denied the academic successes of these applicants. It can also harm students who were not as qualified, as they may struggle in the classes at the college they were accepted to.
The ACT and SAT give college applicants an opportunity to prove themselves as deserving of acceptance. For students who may have little access to extracurriculars or who lack other accomplishments to include in their applications, the SAT and ACT tests provide a chance to demonstrate their capability.
Furthermore, for many underprivileged students, a high test score will greatly assist them in receiving a college scholarship or necessary financial aid. Some critics of the SAT and ACT argue that these standardized tests are not representative of a student’s academic performance. While this may be true for a small percentage of students who take these tests, the majority of students’ scores on the SAT or ACT reflect their overall academic success. In a 2015 report, ACT Inc. found a direct correlation between grades and ACT scores for 75% of students applying for colleges that year.
Therefore, while the ACT and SAT may not test students on exact college curricula, these tests accurately score students in regards to their future academic success and college preparedness. These tests allow colleges to select applicants based on merit, as well as provide opportunities for underrepresented groups within the student body.
Following the pandemic, these tests hold newfound relevance for applicants attempting to showcase their ability, especially in the absence of extracurriculars. As a result, mandatory testing policies are ultimately beneficial for universities and students alike. The ACT and SAT tests have retained their purpose and are still incredibly relevant and useful tools for colleges and college applicants alike.