COVID, College, and Testing Crisis
Nervous test-takers rejoice! For the past two years, college admissions counselors and the folks from the Career and College Resource Center (CCRC) have been hinting at a shift away from the focus on standardized testing in the college admissions process. With hundreds of thousands of seniors unable to take the SATs and ACTs because testing sites don’t have the capacity to test during a pandemic, nearly all major colleges and universities across the United States, including highly selective schools like Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and the University of Illinois schools, have decided to go test-optional for the class of 2021.
Although these schools haven’t indicated that they intend to extend their test optional status beyond this admissions cycle, it appears as though COVID-19 has accelerated a change already in the making.
As far back as June 2018, high-profile institutions such as the University of Chicago decided to go completely test optional. Although this move was met with criticism and backlash, recent events suggest that maybe they were right all along. “The shift really comes from these colleges analyzing their admissions data. They see that test scores aren’t necessarily good at predicting whether or not a student will be successful at their school. Other factors such as GPA, extracurriculars, and essays paint a much better picture of how well these students did,” Maine West’s Career and College Admissions Specialist, Amelia Manning, said.
This year’s admissions cycle could prove to be a nation-wide experiment on the merits of a system that places emphasis on standardized testing scores. This year’s seniors could play a huge role in determining the future of college admissions. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette, senior Harvard lecturer and college admissions reform activist, Richard Weissbourd said, “What if it turns out that having the SAT or ACT didn’t matter, that they’re still admitting pools of students who are just as engaged and doing just as well without students having to experience the stress and stigma of the high-stakes testing? I think it’s an opportunity to try forms of assessment that don’t clearly favor those with privilege.”
Factors such as the ability to pay for more than one test and access to expensive SAT prep classes are just a few examples of how privilege can play a role in standardized testing. This is without even mentioning the 2019 Varsity Blues admissions scandal, where wealthy parents paid upwards of $25 million in bribe money to help their children score better on these tests. “The scandal really only highlighted a problem that most people involved in college admissions already knew about. It was only really a surprise to the public,” Manning said.
Although replacing the standardized tests with a more equitable system is the clear path to move forward, it’s easier said than done. If colleges place more emphasis on AP tests, extracurricular activities, and awards received by the student, wealthier families will just hire expensive tutors and coaches to help their children get ahead anyway. “I think it is on colleges to really develop forms of assessment that are more fair and equitable and less vulnerable to that kind of gaming. And that’s a hard thing to do. But I think this is the year to really think hard about how to do that,” Weissbourd said.
For some students, however, test scores can give them an opportunity to show their prowess in important subjects. The decision between choosing whether or not to send in SAT/ACT scores this year can be a rough one as there are many factors to consider, “While I have been told that test scores don’t weigh as much as other factors of my application, I still want to send mine as I am confident in my test taking skills. It is one of my assets that I feel can strengthen my college application,” commended National Merit Scholar Gerard Mendoza said.
While in some cases rigorous testing can highlight a student’s strengths, in many, it serves as a flawed metric that is unable to accurately measure their potential. With 46% of testing centers closing down for just the August 29 SAT and 178,600 students being left without a test, according to the College Board, the time is now for college’s to decide on how to ensure that a higher education is secured for the most hard-working and diligent students, not the one with the fattest pockets.