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Future of the SAT and ACT During COVID-19

Test Taking Strategies from Vnaya

A large proportion of the class of 2021 did not participate in the SAT or ACT; the pandemic left many students without a score to submit. SAT and ACT tests are being dropped from the requirements for admission by more colleges. Several institutions adopted a test-optional policy at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of now, several colleges, including the large University of California system, have decided that ACT and SAT scores would no longer be considered when applying for admission and receiving financial assistance.

With nearly 300,000 students enrolled in UC schools – one of the nation’s largest public university systems – UC-based students are the largest test-takers. The University of California system will not be requiring testing for fall 2020 in order to accommodate students whose exams were cancel by COVID-19.

The UC system is now implementing the change permanently, in response to longstanding criticisms of standardized testing. University of California’s decision is part of a legal settlement with students and advocacy groups that argue that standardized tests unfairly disadvantage students with disadvantages.

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The trend is spreading to more schools. In Washington State, a coalition of colleges is planning to eliminate standardized tests. Through spring 2023, prospective students will not have to take either the SAT or ACT to be considered for admission to the City University of New York. Colorado’s governor recently signed a law that prevents public colleges and universities in the state from considering SAT or ACT scores when admitting first year students.

Irrespective of the Fairness of College Admissions Tests, there are imperfect solutions

The practice of standardized testing has been criticized for putting low-income, Black, and Latino or Latina students at an even more severe disadvantage than they were before. The SAT and ACT have been shown to be barriers to social mobility because socioeconomic status is highly correlated with test scores.

SAT scores are highest for white and Asian students, as well as for families making over $200,000 per year, according to data from College Board, which administers the SAT. Students of color, Native Americans, and Latinos/as, as well as those whose families make less than $20,000, score the lowest.

White and Asian students score highest on the SAT, while Black, Native American, and Latino or Latina students score lowest.

Test takers’ SAT reports will now include an “adversity score” announced by the College Board in early 2019. As a result of harsh criticism, the idea was eventually scrapped. It was meant to account for both educational and socioeconomic hardships, such as high crime rates and poverty levels in neighborhoods.

Those who disagree with the College Board’s adversity score believe it does not get to the root cause. Besides expensive test prep, feeling comfortable in exam settings is essential to achieving high scores. Students of color, children from low-income families, and students with disabilities are excluded from the preparation for and delivery of existing college entrance exams.

The University of California and other schools may not require first-year applicants to report SAT or ACT scores going forward, but other tests may still be required. UC plans to create a new admissions test for 2025 during the next few years. By requiring more labor per application, school-specific testing would create an even greater barrier for applicants, thus reducing their number of applications.

An SAT overhaul is prompted by the pandemic

Despite arguing that using SAT scores can enable students to stand out and increase diversity at schools, the College Board supports offering students more flexibility and choice in making the SAT and ACT optional.

UC commissioned a task force to discover that admissions tests provide another metric of merit, particularly useful for low-income and minority applicants who could not get into the university just on the basis of grades.

There has been criticism of standardized tests for promoting class bias, but research suggests that rich students gain an edge in admissions by writing essays. In a study of 240,000 essays, researchers compared essay content with income, SAT scores, and reported household income. They found essay content correlated more strongly with income than test scores.

There was a stronger correlation between income and essay content than SAT scores, according to a study of 240,000 admissions essays.

The college Board announced major SAT changes, which include a reform of the essay. The pandemic served as a catalyst for these changes. SAT Subject Tests (optional in 2016) and the 50-minute essay will no longer be part of the test. A digital SAT, which will allow for greater flexibility and access, is also being developed.

College success is strongly correlated with SAT scores, but they are also an important predictor of income and race. A UC study found that students with low SAT scores were twice as likely to drop out within a year of admission, and three times less likely to complete their degrees.