Many high school seniors had not yet had a chance to take their SAT and ACT when the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly shut down most schools and large group gatherings in the United States this past spring. Now, it’s unclear whether the high school standardized tests will return after the pandemic passes.
According to the New York Times, the College Board—the organization that oversees the SAT and ACT—canceled its testing in April and later postponed online testing options in June.
In response, many universities—including most Ivy League schools—have said they will not require test scores from fall 2021 applicants, according to the Washington Post. On June 15, Harvard became the latest university to make standardized testing optional.
“Harvard College will allow students to apply for admission to the Class of 2025 without requiring standardized test scores,” the university said in a statement. “We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has created insurmountable challenges in scheduling tests for all students, particularly those from modest economic backgrounds, and we believe this temporary change addresses these challenges.”
Other universities that do not require test scores from fall 2021 applicants include all public universities in California, Cornell, Columbia, Yale, Brown, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and Stanford.
The decision to pause standardized testing requirements has reignited a conversation about the relevance of the SAT and ACT. Critics believe the tests disproportionately favor white, affluent students over Black students, according to the Atlantic.
FairTest, an organization that advocates for the end of standardized testing, argues that the SAT “consistently under-predicts the performance of females in college and over-predicts the performance of males.” The organization also says it has a negative bias against minority students.
“The SATs are very effective at eliminating academically promising minority (and low-income) students who apply with strong academic records but relatively low SAT scores,” a FairTest fact sheet says. “Colleges that have made the SAT optional report that their applicant pools are more diverse and that there has been no drop off in academic quality.”
Because of concerns about how standardized testing impacts diversity and equity in the application process, the University of California system voted unanimously to make the SAT and ACT optional for the next two years. It will then either implement a better test or eliminate standardized test requirements altogether. The schools join a long list of universities and colleges that already have optional testing policies in place.
Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s dean of admissions and financial aid, told the Washington Post that he has an “open mind” about whether the SAT and ACT could become permanently optional.
“I’m not a stubborn person,” Coffin said. “If we go through this cycle and something illuminates itself, we’ll consider what we learned.”
The founder and managing editor of College Consensus, Jeremy Alder, told CNBC that test-optional policies are becoming more routine.
“There’s already been a trend toward test-optional because more and more schools are recognizing some of the problems with standardized testing and some of the bias in there,” Alder said. “I think this could definitely accelerate that trend.”