AGN Media Editorial Board
In a nod to one more effect of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of Texas universities have moved to waive requiring standardized test results as one of the many factors weighed during the admissions process.
During a typical year, high school students take the SAT and ACT exams as one of the necessary steps involved in successfully gaining admission to their preferred college choice. Of course, since early March, this year has been anything but normal.
The structured world of standardized tests, which includes fixed dates, times and testing locales, has been upended by the pandemic. Testing days have been canceled and sites closed during a time in which gatherings of almost any size have been discouraged or prohibited. In turn, that decision has surfaced the challenge of making sure all students have equal access to taking the tests.
Thus far, a handful of Texas universities, including Texas Tech, have made standardized test scores optional for applicants seeking admission. The temporary move will be in place through 2021. Other schools to make such a decision include Baylor, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and St. Edward’s.
No all universities have taken this step. The University of Texas at Austin still requires either an SAT or ACT score for admission, although a school official did not rule out the possibility of changes to the requirement prior to August when the application process begins.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M indicated its decision on the issue would come within the next few weeks and likely would include West Texas A&M, where so far only informal conversations about moving to test-optional have taken place.
It is a fair decision in this moment, based on the chaos left in the wake of COVID-19.
It makes sense on another front as some critics think standardized test scores receive outsize consideration in the application process. In fact, the University of California system announced earlier this year that it was phasing out its standardized-test requirement over the next few years.
The College Board, overseer of the SAT, canceled its spring test dates on short notice, which impacted thousands of students. The ACT closed hundreds of testing centers prior to a mid-June testing day. The next rounds of tests are set for later this summer, substantially squeezing the time frame for prospective students to submit applications.
While some have suggested giving additional weight to other metrics such as high school grades, curriculum, letters of recommendation and extended resumes, there should be some caution exercised. If standardized test scores are no longer used, there would be no real metric of consistency in place, which could result in unintended consequences.
"(Colleges) need some level of standardization; it’s only fair," Allen Koh, the chief executive officer of college prep company Cardinal Education, said in our story over the weekend. "The SAT allowed the late bloomers, people who had different talents not necessarily measured in classrooms, to compensate. The decision is actually devastating to a lot of people."
For now, waiving the requirement is the most equitable path to follow, but higher education officials will need to think through decisions that could make this permanent, remembering the pros and the cons of the tests and giving them proper weight as one of many considerations in a robust admissions process.