- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is claiming another victim in higher education: standardized testing.

The number of colleges dropping ACT or SAT scores from admissions requirements has ballooned over the fall, with schools citing the tests’ impracticality amid many high school juniors and seniors learning virtually and last spring’s testing shutdowns.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of students, including our future students,” Bradley Barnes, vice provost of enrollment management at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said last month, announcing the school along with the University of Alabama will not require standardized test scores as part of the 2021 admissions process.

Nationally, 67 colleges and universities have announced at least a one-year, test-blind policy due to the pandemic.

Some larger schools, including Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, have announced that they would not require but would consider the exams in the next admissions cycle, after the coronavirus shuttered schools and testing centers.

“We know it will be difficult for many of our potential applicants to have completed their exams by our application deadlines so we’re adjusting our review process to accommodate all students,” Kevin Browne, vice provost for academic and enrollment services at the University of Illinois at Chicago, announced in June.

As of Tuesday, more than 1,650 colleges are making standardized tests optional next year, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

Some observers say schools should permanently adopt the changes.

A California appeals court ruled last week that the state’s universities could not use test scores for students’ applications this coming fall, upholding a lower court decision. A lawsuit filed last year by low-income and students of color called the test requirements discriminatory.

“Which UC campuses will ultimately be test-free or test-optional for fall 2021 is being determined at the local level,” Claire Doan, spokeswoman for the University of California System, said in an email.

In May, the system’s regents voted to phase out tests by the fall of 2025.

Catherine Hofmann, vice president of state and federal programs at ACT Inc., rejected the idea that removing tests paves the way for equity, citing the tests as game-changers for low-income and rural students.

“I feel no more than never the ACT is the thing it was yesterday: the lighthouse in the storm,” said Ms. Hofmann, citing the remote learning scenarios that have upended high school education across the country.

She said that after testing in the spring, the company had tested more than 700,000 students this fall.

Many school admissions counselors will find substitutes for scores on the ACT or SAT. At the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, admissions officials will review an applicant’s high school GPA and “quality of curriculum” for admission.

For students attending Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., this will be the first year tests are “not considered.” After the school made ACT/SAT optional in 2016, finding that the tests were less meaningful than students’ grades and curriculum at determining their success in college, 40% of students weren’t sending them in for the private school’s consideration in the last cycle.

But Christopher Lydon, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at Catholic University, says he is concerned about other ways COVID-19 has affected students, including thwarting out-of-state visits from families who live far from Washington.

“Broad interest [this year] is comparable [to previous years], but submitted applications are a bit sluggish,” Mr. Lydon said.

More than half of counselors say COVID-19 will have a “substantial” or “profound impact” on recruiting students next fall, according to a survey by the Association for College Admission Counseling.

At least one state is keeping the ACT/SAT requirements for admission next fall: Florida. The state’s university board of governors has not buckled under public pressure and has refused to drop the requirement.

“At this time, we have been informed by The College Board and ACT Inc. that a significant number of seats are still available in Florida for the national test dates,” Renee Fargason, spokeswoman for the Florida Board of Governors, told The Washington Times.

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