Juniors sit in Room 3 and wait for the PSAT to start on the morning of Oct. 14. (Photo: Sanjana Anand)

Standardized testing policies for college admissions processes change in response to COVID-19

As COVID-19 sweeps across the nation, colleges, universities, teachers and students have been caught in the crossfire of the outbreak which has temporarily stopped standardized exams. On Oct. 14 the school administered the PSAT and SAT to juniors and seniors respectively after the date was decided on by the College Board. However, it is uncertain how these results will be used as this suspension of tests has caused many to reconsider the use of standardized testing in college admissions processes. 

As of Oct. 9, more than 1,600 colleges have adopted a “test-optional” policy for the graduating class of 2021 according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. 

The most significant changes have been with the University of California system (UCs). Its nine undergraduate campuses will be test-optional — meaning tests can be submitted, but are not required — through 2022. In the following years it plans on going test-blind so students are not required to submit test scores. 

However, the idea of dropping standardized tests is not new, said Jane Bauman, Country Day’s director of college counseling. 

“Before the pandemic, because of a number of lawsuits questioning the fairness of testing, some colleges began to shift towards test-optional or even test-blind,” Bauman said. 

Associate Director of College Counseling Chris Kuipers said that before COVID-19 — despite standardized tests being required for admissions — colleges were slowly beginning to move away from them.

“COVID-19 helped to accelerate the push the UCs were making against standardized tests,” Kuipers said. “Their decision to start de-prioritizing the SAT and ACT  has been important to more colleges becoming test-optional.”

The SAT and ACT are similar tests, but with some key differences. Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a dedicated science section instead of it being included in the math and reading sections. Both tests also have different scoring systems, with the SAT maxing out at 1,600 points and the ACT at 36 points. 

This push away from standardized testing already has found success. As of March 20 — after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced they would no longer consider subject tests in applications — no college in the United States requires SAT Subject Tests for admission purposes.

Criticizing standardized tests is not new either. Kuipers said the College Board faced scrutiny for the meaning of “SAT” in 1997. 

“The SAT used to stand for the ‘Scholastic Aptitude Test,’” Kuipers said. “They got rid of it because the fight over the definition of those words became heated.” 

Now, the SAT is no longer an initialism. 

Another long-time question that has been asked about standardized tests is what they are meant to measure and how good they are at measuring whatever that may be.

“That’s one reason why schools are taking a break from standardized testing,” Bauman said. 

As a college counselor and a former admissions officer for both Stanford University and Amherst College, Kuipers said that standardized tests measure a base skill level of academic ability, intelligence and aptitude while serving as a constant that can be used across all applicants and is less subjective than high school transcripts.

There are many mixed feelings as to whether standardized tests are a good measuring tool for colleges to use. 

Senior Allie Bogetich said standardized tests are a good measure for colleges to use. 

“Every school is different, so not every school will have the same classes,” Bogetich said. “Less privileged schools probably aren’t going to have access to highly educated teachers who are able to teach AP classes or advanced classes. The concept of the SAT or ACT helps level the playing field because you don’t need a teacher to study for it. It’s one thing that everyone across America has access to.” 

Bogetich said the SAT and ACT should be optional, similar to AP exams. The ACT and SAT could serve as a replacement for those who either don’t have access to or didn’t perform well on AP exams, she said. 

Both Bauman and Kuipers had views similar to Bogetich’s. 

“I don’t think tests should be required,” Kuipers said. “But another question is, what tests are you going to use?” 

Bauman said at SCDS, test scores are generally consistent with grades. Bauman also said colleges tell students that high school grades are better “predictors” of college success rather than test scores. 

Kuipers’s hope for colleges to go test-optional shares the same reasoning as Bogetich. 

Kuipers said that the level of a student’s education plays a role in testing and results. 

“I think they measure something, and that’s pretty reliable, but what that reliability shows is that they’re in some way measuring the quality of a student’s educational background,” Kuipers said.  “Studies have shown that, generally, the wealthier a family is, the better the student scores,” 

Kuipers added that racial and ethnical factors also affect tests, and said that generally white students perform better than students of color, and there are lots of factors that play into that.

Kuipers said AP exams are better tests in comparison to the SAT or ACT.

“With AP tests, you’ve sat in a class for an entire year, and you’re learning a wide variety of different skills for a standard AP Test,” Kuipers said. “It speaks to a more real set of knowledge and specific discipline rather than a more vague, holistic measure.” 

Another argument against standardized tests has come from a business standpoint, with the College Board and ACT both pushing for testing to continue. 

“A huge business interest drives testing,” Bauman said. “The College Board and ACT are both nonprofits, but big nonprofits. A lot is at stake if testing becomes optional, so it makes sense why they would push to continue testing.”

And there’s social pressure. 

“Since these tests are required to get into college, societal pressure makes people think that they have to take the PSAT to get National Merit, and the expectation is to take the test two or three times to get a good score,” Kuipers said. “I’m hopeful that colleges realize there are other ways to measure the merit of a student.”

— By Arjin Claire

Originally published in the Oct. 20 edition of the Octagon.