Colleges should rethink using standardized test scores for admissions, major counselors’ group says

Colleges and universities have long “entrusted” the College Board and Act Inc., which own the SAT and ACT exams, respectively, “with the authority of serving as a third-party certifier of students’ qualification for admission,” the report says.

But as more and different groups of students have sought to enter college and take these exams, the “testing agencies have not been able to ensure that the access to and availability of test administrations, the quality of the testing experience, and the integrity and validity of test scores are preserved consistently.”

It also says the “test prep” industry once “scorned” by the testing agencies has become a billion-dollar business and is “creating added equity challenges and calling into question the reliability of test scores as true measures of student abilities.”

Since the pandemic began early this year, many institutions of higher education have said they would not require an SAT or ACT for students applying to enter in fall 2021 — and some announced multiyear pilot programs.

Even before the pandemic there had been a strong test-optional movement but this year saw an unprecedented surge of schools suspending the requirement as the College Board and ACT Inc. have had to cancel multiple administrations of the exams.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), a nonprofit organization that works to end the misuse of standardized tests, has maintained a list of colleges and universities that have dropped the use of ACT or SAT scores for admissions over time, and it says there are more than 1,450 accredited four-year colleges (including for-profit schools). NACAC put the FairTest list on its website.

Research has shown over time that standardized test scores are most strongly correlated to socioeconomic factors and are not predictive of college success, despite counter statements by the College Board and ACT Inc.

The NACAC task force began its work a year ago, before the pandemic, but incorporated the effects of it on college admissions in the final report, noting schools this year have had a chance to reflect on their admissions policies.

“After we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions, we cannot simply ‘go back to normal,’” the report says. “The tenuous grasp we hold on many of our habits and policies has been further loosened and we must adapt if we are to continue to fulfill our duty to the public good.

“While more higher education institutions will undoubtedly adopt test-optional admission policies, not all institutions will do so. And while some institutions have decided to go test-optional as a result of covid-19 disruptions, this may be a temporary shift in policy. The task force believes institutions, regardless of the college admission policy they choose, must closely examine their approach in light of equity concerns.”

Among the things schools should consider to “resolve issues of access and equity in admission” are:

  • Consider the public good. Consider what admission policy decisions mean for higher education generally, and whether institutional policies and practices enable more students access to higher education.
  • Be student-centered. Offer simplicity and clarity in a time of complexity and heightened anxiety about the college admission process. Though the covid-19 pandemic created additional barriers to accessing standardized tests, certain populations — including international applicants, who are critical to postsecondary institutions — have faced barriers for decades that will remain, or even be exacerbated, if or when testing returns to pre-covid-19 operations.
  • Focus on student success. Review historical institutional data for enrolled students to determine the factors that contribute to student success.
  • Be transparent and provide clearly stated explanations for all decisions related to testing. Share data that has informed decisions, clearly articulate the resulting decisions and justifications, and share data that results from policy changes or continuations. Avoid ambiguous language.
  • Include a plan for conducting frequent reviews. Commit to regular assessment of institutional data to inform testing policy.
  • Consider unintended consequences. Standardized tests have served a role in the evaluation process to assess cognitive characteristics of students independently of any particular secondary school curriculum. External assessments can be thought of as a counterweight to information from secondary schools that have an interest in the outcome of the selection process. When colleges and universities no longer utilize SAT or ACT scores, and other measures of academic achievement become more important in determining who is admitted, does this place new pressures on secondary schools?

Here’s the full report:

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