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How the coronavirus is pushing colleges to take elective tests | Best colleges

By on March 23, 2021 0

When the novel coronavirus began to spread in the United States, it changed many facets of higher education such as in-person teaching, the college admission cycle, and entrance exams such as ACT and SAT.

Testing officials canceled previously scheduled ACT and SAT sessions and postponed these exams to later dates, although many of those sessions had to be canceled due to pandemic issues. In response, many colleges has responded to the pandemic by removing testing requirements for applicants and announcing optional pilot testing programs, the length of which varies by school.

“I think it’s a good thing for the students, but it forces the students to work a little harder and learn what these different policies might mean for them,” says Ginger Fay, director of consultant engagement. independent teaching staff at Applerouth Tutoring Services. in Atlanta.

Since the pandemic struck, the number of universities requiring ACT and SAT has declined dramatically, notes Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, which has long fought to reduce the role of standardized testing in admissions. at University.

“Before the pandemic, there were 1,070 schools where testing was optional – one of which was blind. There are now 1,686, 68 of which are blind for fall 2021, ”Schaeffer said.

Test organizations have recognized the importance of flexibility in these turbulent times.

“ACT respects the right of each college to determine its own admission policies, especially in the midst of a crisis such as COVID-19 where flexibility and managing disruption are paramount,” a statement read. ACT in May on the test of changes. The ACT did not respond to a US News request for comment on more recent developments in college admissions testing policies.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, provided US News with a statement acknowledging the changing nature of testing policies.

“Colleges rightly emphasize the flexibility of the admissions process for this cycle; in the longer term, as the admissions process is able to stabilize after Covid-19, we will support our members of higher education in the implementation of permanent policies, ”is part of the statement reads.

He adds, “The mission of the College Board is not to ensure that all colleges require the SAT, it is to expand access to college for more students and to help them succeed when they get there. Whether required for admission or not, SAT scores help colleges create data – programs to ensure that admitted students get the support they need to graduate. “

What does the optional test mean for students?

Simply defined, the optional test means that students are not required to submit standardized test results on their university application. It is up to the student to decide whether to do so.

Jed Applerouth, founder and president of Applerouth Tutoring Services, says the removal of consideration testing shifts the focus elsewhere on an academic application. “If we take this piece out, more are going to be amplified,” he said.

“For teens, you know you’ll be judged for more than a score,” Schaeffer says. “What you did in your classes for several years in high school will mean more than how you bubble-filled on a Saturday morning.”

But Applerouth suggests that how a student filled in those bubbles will always have an impact. Taking the optional test doesn’t mean a college won’t review scores, just that it doesn’t need to.

“Students who have good scores are probably going to stand out a bit more this year, ”he says. In a pool of applicants who do not have grades, a candidate with good results will stand out because this is another factor for colleges to consider.

At the same time, taking the optional test can also help those who did not pass the ACT or SAT well.

Removing this element requires colleges to take into account other factors, both qualitative and quantitative. Colleges will review a student’s GPA, grade trends, and rigor of a student’s high school curriculum, as well as letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, admission interviews and other factors that will be high without taking test results into account, some experts say.

While colleges are already taking these elements into account, they become increasingly important in the absence of standardized test scores.

“Colleges, when looking at a student’s profile, just look for clues in other parts of the application,” says Fay.

But a question that arises is: does test-optional really mean test-optional? Or will colleges still pressure students to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of their application? The answer may depend on the college.

“Some colleges have asked students who don’t submit test results why they don’t submit, and this is not a truly optional testing program,” Fay said. “Because you resent a student if they have grades they’ll remember, versus a student who really hasn’t been able to test.” “

To assure students that optional testing policies are really in place, more than 500 colleges signed a statement in August from the National Association for College Admission Counseling confirming their commitment to those policies. The signatories of the declaration can be found on the NACAC website.

What the optional test means for colleges

Admission experts suggest that taking the optional test may benefit colleges and students. For example, Fay says that colleges that opt ​​for the elective test tend to receive more applications overall and form a plus. diverse class of applicants.

Colleges that opt ​​for the optional test are no longer outliers. This is becoming an increasingly popular position, observes Schaeffer. Florida public schools are among a minority of top-tier colleges that have not passed the optional test, a decision that rests with the state’s board of governors, it notes.

Some colleges were already reconsidering their testing policies when the pandemic hit U.S. shores.

The University of California system, which includes 10 campuses including the prestigious University of California — Los Angeles and University of California, Berkeley, announced in March that it would become optional for students applying for admission in fall 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. A subsequent court ruling in September banned the system from taking ACT or SAT into account in this cycle’s admissions decisions, noting that many students were unable to access exams and essentially took those exams. colleges with blind test status.

But big changes in the UC system were already underway before the court ruling was handed down.

In May, a new plan approved by the Board of Regents extended the voluntary testing policy until 2022. In addition, the entire UC system suspended the standardized testing requirement for state-to-state applicants. fall 2023 and fall 2024, and the ACT or SAT testing requirement will be removed from 2025 if these tests are not replaced by a new try the system plans to expand.

“Taking the optional tests has never meant that schools are blind to the tests,” says Applerouth. “The blind test is a very different thing.”

Blind testing means colleges will not review scores even if a student submits them. Students should check the application requirements at their target schools to understand each one’s testing policy.

“Look very carefully at the admissions website,” Schaeffer advises.

At the time of publication, the next test dates for ACT and SAT are scheduled for February and March, respectively.

However, a predicted winter increase in COVID-19 cases could lead to more canceled testing sessions, according to Applerouth.

“We don’t know exactly how the blockages are going to affect testing over the next couple of months, but the juniors have time. The track is long enough for them,” said Applerouth. “The question is, how will the tests be affected for the February SAT or the March ACT? I have a feeling there is going to be some uncertainty.”

Whether tests will be required at various colleges, experts say, should become clearer in the spring.

“We expect most schools to announce (testing policies) in the spring and beyond,” Applerouth said. “For most of them, the smart decision is to just stick with this year’s policy.”

While some schools are in a one-year optional trial pilot program, others have opted for longer trials. As they decide how to move forward, colleges will carefully consider how students who applied without test scores compare academically to their peers who submitted entrance exam scores, Schaeffer said. .

“They will also assess basic demographics, how their candidate pools have changed from previous years, the differences between bidders who included test results and those who did not,” he said. declared.

Applerouth adds that if the colleges “can build the class and it turns out that there really aren’t any substantial differences, then the majority of programs that are optional for testing will remain optional for testing.”

Why Students May Consider Taking College Entrance Exams

Admissions experts, testing organizations, and even some skeptics agree – it still makes sense to take the ACT or the SAT.

“When they can test safely, even in a world where testing is optional, it is up to the student to see where their test scores stand,” says Fay.

If the result is positive, a student can move forward knowing that standardized testing can be an important part of their profile, she says. Otherwise, a student can try to retake the exam for a better score or skip the results on the optional applications of the test.

It may be a good idea to send the scores to one college but not another, depending on how a potential student ranks against other applicants based on their results. Applicants can check college websites to see statistics, including test scores, for previously admitted classes.

Even as the optional movement of the test increases, reviewers of the tests recognize that it may make sense for candidates to take the ACT and SAT. “They could opt out if they wish. Many colleges are now optional for testing and you don’t need to play the game,” Schaeffer said.

But, he adds, that decision can get more complicated depending on the number of schools a student applies to, given the likely variation in testing policies.

“Chances are, one of the schools on this list still requires a test.”